Sexual assault is a major problemthat has effected many people around the world. The risk of attempted orcompleted rape is around 20 percent for women, although, sexual assault is aproblem for many men and children as well. Sexual assault can not only causeemotional trauma like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression, butit can also lead to unwanted pregnancies and STI’s (Welch & Mason, 2007).
According to The United States Department ofJustice, sexual assault is defined as, “any type of sexual contact or behaviorthat occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under thedefinition of sexual assault are sexual activities such as forced sexualintercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, andattempted rape” (“Sexual Assault,” n.d.). In relation to sexual assault, thereare certain shared characteristics that an individual could possess that wouldmake them more likely to be a sexual assault perpetrator. Similarly, anindividual could also possess common characteristics that would make them morelikely to be a victim of sexual assault.
In general, the risk factors ofpeople who commit sexual assault can not be grouped together because they allhave different reasons on why they would a commit a crime such as sexualassault. There are perpetrators who comefrom many different backgrounds, share many different stories, and haveexperienced many different things (Greathouse, Saunders, Matthews, Keller,& Miller, 2015b). According to Dictonary.com, risk factor is defined as, “acondition, behavior, or other factor that increases risk” (“Risk Factor,”n.
d.). In other words, if you possess a risk factor for something, it willincrease your risk of that something happening to you. For example, childhoodabuse is a major risk factor for perpetrators of sexual assault.
Therefore, ifyou were abused as child, your chances of becoming a perpetrator of sexualassault is increased. Over time, researchers have tried grouping risk factorstogether, however, it has proved to be difficult. Often times, it is seen thatmany perpetrators have committed more crimes unrelated to sexual assault than actualsexual assault (Greathouse et al.
, 2015b). However, the common risk factorsfound for perpetrators of sexual assault can be grouped into six categories;childhood abuse, sexual behavior, interpersonal skills, attitude andcognitions, peer attitudes and behavior, and substance abuse (Greathouse etal., 2015a). The first risk factor for a perpetratoris childhood abuse which encompasses sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotionalabuse or exposure to violence in their home as a child.
In several studies itwas shown that child physical abuse, specifically, was most linked to sexualassault perpetration. In studies found within college studies, there was aconnection found between parental conflict and sexual assault perpetrationeither as an adolescent or as an adult. The second common risk factor forperpetrators is problems regarding sexual behavior. Perpetrators may have ahistory of multiple sex partners as well as having been engaged in sexualactivities at an early age.
This could have lead to perpetration because theyhad an interest in sex at an early age and had advanced sexual experiences. Inrelation to this, perpetrators may also have casual attitudes about sex such asthey feel sex outside of committed relationships is acceptable. There is oftena link found between casual attitudes about sex and having many sexualpartners. The last thing related to sexual behaviors is past sexual violenceperpetration. The third risk factor relating to perpetration is problems withinterpersonal skills.
This includes social-skill deficits, lack of empathy,attachment styles, and sex misinterpretation. Perpetrators who havesocial-skill deficits may have trouble connecting with other adults and makingconnections or may have trouble interacting with members of the opposite sex.So, in order to compensate for their difficulties, individuals will commit sexualassault. Another characteristic found in perpetrators is lack of empathy whichmeans they have trouble relating to someone’s feelings.
A study found showedthat men who scored low on empathy and high on hostility towards women werelikely to be sexually aggressive. Attachment styles were also found in relationto perpetrators. As humans, the need for forming emotional bonds to others,especially during our younger years, is imperative. Since perpetrators usuallydo not have these bonds, they have insecure attachment styles which can lead tosexual aggression which can eventually lead to sexual assault. The lastcharacteristic in relation to sexual assault perpetrators is sexualmisinterpretation. Research has shown that sexually aggressive men are morelikely than nonaggressive men to mistake a woman’s friendliness as a sign ofsexual interest, therefore leading to sexual assault (Greathouse et al., 2015a). The fourth risk factor forperpetrators is in relation to attitudes and cognitions.
Hostility towardswomen can be a characteristic of those who commit sexual assault. Specifically,those who do not trust women and are very angry towards them. Anothercharacteristic related to attitudes and cognitions is perpetrators who believein rape myth.
This means they believe in misperceptions that providejustification about myth, such as, women are desired to be raped because itmakes them feel as if someone wants them. If perpetrators believe women want tobe raped, then it will make them more likely to do it. Another characteristicis belief in traditional gender roles. In other words, individuals who believethat men and women need to act in accordance with roles that are traditional(Greathouse et al., 2015a). In other research, it was found that differences inperceptions of sexuality can be due to gender roles.
For example, Americangender role norms teach men that they have to be dominant and use force whilethese gender roles influence women to be more passive. So, since these genderroles might teach men to be aggressive, men will often express their dominancesexually. (Fagen, McCormick, Kontos, Venable, & Anderson, 2011). The lastcharacteristic is hyper-masculinity and is often linked with callous attitudestoward sex, excitement in the face of danger and violence. Violence, ofteninfluencing men to exert dominance over women.
The fifth risk factor isperceptions of peer attitudes and behavior which says that if you hang withpeople who are perceived to be sexually aggressive, then it is more likely tomake yourself sexually aggressive. The sixth risk factor is alcohol and druguse. Research has found that about 50 percent of sexual assaults showed thateither the victim, perpetrator or both had consumed alcohol prior to theassault (Greathouse et al.
, 2015a). Although all of this research showsimplications of risk factors for perpetrators, there are also certaincharacteristics found relating to the victim which will make it easier for themto become a target of sexual assault. The risk factors that make women inparticularly more susceptible to sexual violence is age, the use of alcohol ordrugs, having previously been raped or sexually abused, having many sexualpartners, sex work, education, and poverty. The first risk factor found instudies is age because young women are usually more likely to be raped. In chaptersix of the book titled, “Sexual Violence”, it states, “according to data fromjustice systems and rape crisis centers in Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, Papua NewGuinea, Peru and the United States, between one- third and two-thirds of allvictims of sexual assault are aged 15 years or less” (“Sexual Violence, 2002).Alcohol and drug consumption, the second risk factor for victims, makes someonemore likely to be sexually assaulted because when you are incapacitated it isharder to be able to defend yourself. Alcohol and drugs can also lead toineffective communication which can make it harder to clearly give consent.
Thethird risk factor for victims of sexual assault is having previously been rapedor abused. A study in the United States showed that women who were raped beforethe age of 18 years old were twice as likely to be raped again than those whohave never been raped. This could be due to the fact that being assaulted earlyon lead to other victimization and other problems in adulthood (“SexualViolence”, 2002).
The fourth risk factor that couldlead to sexual assault is having many sexual partners. The fifth risk factorfor victims is engaging in sex work as it exposes them to a sexual environmentin their everyday life. Women who had experienced attempted or completed rapein childhood or adolescence were shown to have higher numbers of sexualpartners. However, there is not enough data to show if this is a cause orconsequence of abuse. The sixth risk factor for women is education.
Women whohave higher levels of education are put at greater risk for both sexual and physicalviolence by their partners. It is thought to be that as a woman becomes moreeducated, she feels more empowered. Therefore, men regain control by resortingto violence. Similarly, women who work more are also more likely to reportforced sex by their spouse than women who do not work. The seventh risk factoris poverty. This is often due to the fact that many poor women and girls needto work to survive. Children will be raped helping their family perform dailychores while women may be raped on their walk home from work. Children of poorwomen may also have less parental supervision because their parents have towork which makes them an easier target for perpetrators (“Sexual Assault”,2002).
To conclude, there are several riskfactors that have been identified for both the victim and perpetrator regardingsexual assault. Sexual assault can be committed for many different reasons andis based on social, cultural, and economic factors. Sadly, sexual assault is alot more prevalent than the general population may expect. Sexual assault ishappening everywhere; college campuses, at work, and even in people’s homes.Fortunately, this information can be used to help educate people so that theycan protect themselves and lessen people’s chances of being involved in asexual assault crime.