History of Abuse Predicting Current Experiences and Perceptions of Sexual Coercion
Sexual aggression among college students has been a popular topic of examination for the past three decades. One of the reasons for the repeated analysis is the fact that sexual aggression remains a common and enduring experience among college students. An early survey on this topic found that 54% of college women reported experiencing some sort of sexual victimization (Koss, Gidycz, & Wisniewski, 1987). That same year, Muehlenhard and Linton reported that 78% of female college students experienced some sort of sexual coercion and 15% reported experiencing a rape. Studies since then have consistently replicated those findings. Sexual coercion is commonly defined as any method used to obtain sexual contact with an initially unwilling partner, including negotiation and reasoning, guilt or emotional pressure, and the threat or use of physical aggression (Lyndon, White, & Kadlec, 2007).
Given the frequent occurrence of sexual coercion, it is likely that many students accept this behavior as expected and within the boundaries of social norms (Johnson, 1980). One of the few studies to examine perceptions of sexual coercion used written vignettes to examine the impact of initiator gender and type of coercive act on interpretations of the actors and behaviors (Oswald & Russell, 2006). In that study, college students did not rate the target of the sexual coercion as experiencing high levels of victimization, no matter the aggressiveness of the coercive strategy used, nor did they view the influence strategies or the person using them as particularly aggressive. Although the study provides useful information on the perception of sexually coercive acts, it does not capture how individuals would interpret and perceive these acts if used by their own partners to overcome their initial reluctance to engage in sexual activity. Missing in the literature was a measure to evaluate both the prevalence rates and the perceptions of sexual initiation strategies when it applied personally to the participant.
An understanding of individual and situational characteristics associated with how coercive acts are perceived is important in order to understand fully the dynamics of sexually coercive interactions. One factor that may cause a person to misperceive coercive influence is having a history of prior victimization. Current studies show that women with a past history of sexual abuse are more likely to experience subsequent sexual coercion. Turchik, Probst, Irvin, Chau, and Gidycz (2009) found that women with a history of sexual coercion were more likely to experience sexual coercion again during the follow-up period of the study. Additionally, the women who had been victimized were also more likely to have misperceptions about rape and sexual violence. Furthermore, a study which examined women’s ability to perceive risk for sexual aggression from an acquaintance...