In just over a year, many women in urban and suburban America lost the ability to reliably report the number of male and female assailants who sexually assaulted them, according to a new study released this week.
The researchers behind the new study came to this conclusion after analyzing 12 million recorded oral histories submitted by 6,485 individuals who, as children or teenagers, had been assaulted by an adult male or female perpetrator.
The study found that more than one in three of the sexually assaulted females reported having been sexually assaulted by only a male assailant, whereas only 13 percent of the sexually assaulted males reported being sexually assaulted by only female assailants.
Women in the study who reported being the aggressor more often than their male counterparts also came to believe that this was so. Only 5 percent of this group of women held a very positive view of their aggressor, and 97 percent viewed it negatively. Conversely, 8 percent of this group saw their male aggressor negatively, and 91 percent saw him positively.
“Because of the large, clear gender disparities between reports of attackers, there are likely to be large, clear gender disparities between perceptions and views of attackers among women and men,” said Kristin E. Rhodes, lead author of the study and a researcher at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.
Researchers also found that men’s aggressive aggression was more likely to be captured by men’s in-group and their swagger was much more prevalent among them than among women in the study. And they noted that when men took on their aggressor as their own, verbal agitation significantly diminished.
“We know that men’s bad behavior in the classroom was seen differently than women’s bad behavior in the classroom,” said Robert J. Hicks, co-author of the study and a co-founder of The Assault Research Network. “What we think this study shows is that when men disagree with the in-group and that conversation produces bad outcomes, as opposed to talk that is benign and normative in the group, then they have more opportunities to be aggressive. That may be why there is such a difference in outcomes.”
While the researchers believe that perceptions of attacks made a substantial difference, they also surmised that aggressive behavior – a phenomenon known as “status conflict” – could be contributing to it. This behavioral response to having their masculinity questioned is often called “explosive behavior,” and the researchers said that it likely has a greater impact on the perception of aggressors’ aggressiveness than this type of measured aggression has on perceptions of aggressors.
“The main finding is that more men’s aggressions are captured by men’s in-group,” said Mark Phillips, co-author of the study and a co-founder of The Assault Research Network. “These are individuals who think of themselves as dominating individuals, so it’s not surprising that men would behave more aggressively in this situation.”
Researchers also pointed out that when aggressive behavior was directed at female partners, it had a worse impact on women than it did on men.