«Research Report A Review of the Literature on Sexual Assault Perpetrator Characteristics and Behaviors Sarah Michal Greathouse, Jessica Saunders, ...»
A Review of the Literature on
Sexual Assault Perpetrator
Characteristics and Behaviors
Sarah Michal Greathouse, Jessica Saunders, Miriam Matthews, Kirsten M. Keller,
Laura L. Miller
C O R P O R AT I O N
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Support RAND Make a tax-deductible charitable contribution at www.rand.org/giving/contribute www.rand.org Preface Sexual assault continues to be a pervasive problem, both for society in general and within the military community. To assist the Air Force in its continued efforts to combat sexual assault perpetration within its ranks, we conducted a review of the existing empirical literature on adult perpetrators who commit sexual assault against other adults, with a particular focus on research published in 2000 or later. Our literature search focused on the current state of scientific knowledge and was not limited to studies focusing on military populations. We uncovered a substantial amount of research devoted to understanding sexual assault perpetration, including the common characteristics of perpetrators who commit sexual assault, and behavioral patterns among this group of offenders. This report provides a summary of our findings from the review of this body of literature.
The research reported here was sponsored by the director of Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR), the Office of the Vice Chief of Staff (AF/CVS), and the commander of Air Force Recruiting Service (AFRS/CC). It was conducted within the Manpower, Personnel, and Training Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE as part of a fiscal year 2014 study focused on “Enhancing Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Efforts Through a Better Understanding of Perpetrator Behaviors and Risk Factors.” RAND Project AIR FORCE RAND Project AIR FORCE (PAF), a division of the RAND Corporation, is the U.S. Air Force’s federally funded research and development center for studies and analysis. PAF provides the Air Force with independent analyses of policy alternatives affecting the development, employment, combat readiness, and support of current and future aerospace forces. Research is conducted in four programs: Force Modernization and Employment; Manpower, Personnel, and Training;
Resource Management; and Strategy and Doctrine. The research reported here was prepared under contract FA7014-06-C-0001.
Additional information about PAF is available on our website: http://www.rand.org/paf.
Figures and Table
Limitations of Existing Research on Sexual Assault Perpetration
Organization of the Report
2. Characteristics of Male Perpetrators Who Sexually Assault Female Victims
Prior Sexual Behavior
Gender-Related Attitudes and Cognitions
Perceptions of Peer Attitudes and Behavior
Integrated Models of Sexual Assault Perpetration
The Characteristics of Sexual Assault Perpetrators in the Military
Predicting Sexual Assault Perpetration
3. Behaviors of Male Perpetrators Who Sexually Assault Female Victims
Behaviors of Serial Perpetrators Who Sexually Assault Strangers
The Cycle of Sexual Offending
Behaviors of Sexual Assault Perpetrator and Behavioral Differences Among Different Types of Perpetrators
Behaviors of Sexual Assault Perpetrators in the Military
4. Female Sexual Assault Perpetrators
Frequency of Sexual Assault by Female Sexual Assault Perpetrators
Typologies of Female Sexual Assault Perpetrators
Characteristics of Female Sexual Assault Perpetrators
Behaviors of Female Sexual Assault Perpetrators
5. Male Perpetrators Who Sexually Assault Male Victims
Frequency of Sexual Assault by Male Perpetrators Against Male Victims
Typologies of Male Perpetrators Who Sexually Assault Male Victims
Characteristics of Male Perpetrators Who Sexually Assault Male Victims
v Behaviors of Male Perpetrators Who Sexually Assault Male Victims
6. Multiple-Perpetrator Sexual Assault
Descriptive Characteristics of Multiple-Perpetrator Sexual Assault
Characteristics of Multiple-Perpetrator Sexual Assault Offenders
Social Contexts in Multiple-Perpetrator Sexual Assault
Social Psychological Processes in Multiple-Perpetrator Sexual Assault
Multiple-Perpetrator Sexual Assault in the Military
7. Conclusions and Implications for Prevention Efforts
Lessons Learned for Air Force Prevention, Training, and Recruitment Efforts
viFigures and Table
Figure S.1. The Confluence Model of Sexual Aggression
The Confluence Model of Sexual Aggression
Characteristics of Male Perpetrators Who Sexually Assault Female Victims............... 8
Sexual assault continues to be a pervasive problem in the United States. One survey estimates that 19 percent of women and 2 percent of men in the United States have been sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime. Similarly, within the armed forces, 23 percent of women and 4 percent of men service members report having been sexually assaulted during their military service.
To assist the U.S. Air Force in its continued efforts to prevent sexual assault by its service members, we reviewed existing literature on the characteristics and behaviors of adults who commit sexual assault (ranging from coercion to aggression to behaviors meeting the legal definition of rape) against other adults (including that by strangers, acquaintances, and groups of perpetrators).1 This work has three aims. First, we synthesize what is known about perpetrator risks and behaviors. Second, we highlight important findings within the literature that could guide ongoing and future sexual assault prevention and training efforts within the Air Force.
Third, we discuss whether any sexual assault perpetrator screening tools exist that the Air Force could incorporate in recruitment screening of airmen. We found that most research focuses on solitary men who perpetrate assault against women (which we refer to as male-female sexual assault). Nevertheless, we also searched specifically for relevant literature on female sexual assault perpetrators, men who commit sexual assault against other men, and individuals who participate in group sexual assault.
Characteristics of Male Perpetrators Who Sexually Assault Female Victims The most commonly studied contributors to perpetration of sexual assault can be grouped into those related to experience of child abuse, previous sexual behavior, interpersonal-skill deficits, gender-related attitudes, perceptions of peer behavior, and substance abuse. We discuss each of these below, as well as efforts to assess their effects in confluence.
Child Abuse Child abuse includes sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, as well as exposure to violence within the home. While some research indicates a relationship between childhood sexual abuse We considered behaviors ranging from sexual coercion (i.e., the use of violence, threats, and/or harassment to obtain sexual gratification) to sexual aggression (the use of violent acts to forcefully obtain sexual gratification), as well as research that focused specifically on behaviors that would meet the legal definition of sexual assault/rape.
We also considered the range of possible relationships between perpetrators and victims, including strangers, acquaintances, intimate partners/spouses, and groups of perpetrators who commit sexual assault against strangers or known victims.
ix and later sexual assault perpetration, overall findings are mixed, and more research is needed to fully explore the mechanisms of this relationship. The link between sexual assault perpetration and childhood physical abuse or exposure to family violence appears to be more established.
Sexual Behavior Several surveys have found a correlation between self-reported perpetration of sexual violence and number of sexual partners or early initiation of sex. Studies have also identified a significant link between sexual assault perpetration and impersonal attitudes toward sex, defined as practices and beliefs that sex outside a relationship is acceptable. Finally, both cross-sectional surveys and longitudinal surveys following individuals over time have consistently found a history of sexual assault perpetration to be associated with or predictive of additional sexual assault perpetration.
Interpersonal Skills Several studies have examined whether sexual assault perpetrators display deficits in their interpersonal skills. Some research indicates that sexual assault perpetrators may have insecure attachment styles and lower empathy toward sexual assault victims, as well as misinterpret sexual cues, but overall, research is mixed. Several studies have failed to find an effect of socialskill deficits on adult sexual assault perpetration. More research is needed to clarify the effects of interpersonal-skills deficits and what else may exacerbate difficulties in interpersonal skills.
Gender-Related Attitudes and Cognitions The role of gender-related attitudes and cognitions has been among the most studied in research on sexual assault perpetration, in part because sexual assault is often conceptualized as an expression of men’s anger against women or a method of dominating or controlling women.
Several studies have found that men’s endorsement of rape myths, hostility toward women, endorsement of traditional gender roles, and hypermasculinity are related to sexual assault perpetration against women.
Perceptions of Peer Attitudes and Behavior Several studies have found that individuals who perceive their peers as approving of sexual assault are more likely to commit sexual assault. A smaller number of studies have also identified a link between sexual assault perpetration and perceptions of peer pressure to engage in sexual activity.
Substance Use Previous research estimates that in about half of sexual assaults, the victim, the perpetrator, or both consumed alcohol prior to the assault. Research on the association between alcohol use and x sexual assault seems to indicate that alcohol consumption can play a role in sexual assault perpetration. Some studies indicate that alcohol consumption increases misperceptions of female sexual interest.
Research on the association between drug use and sexual assault perpetration is sparse, and more is needed to fully understand the influence of drug use on sexual assault perpetration.
The Confluence Model of Sexual Aggression Researchers have concluded that sexual assault perpetration is a complex behavior that is likely influenced by a combination of factors, including an individual’s developmental and family history, personality, and environmental and societal influences.
The Confluence Model of Sexual Aggression (Malamuth et al., 1991 and 1995), shown in Figure S.1, is one of the most frequently cited and tested theories of adult sexual assault perpetration. It considers developmental, attitudinal, and environmental factors and describes two different pathways to sexual aggression: the hostile-masculinity pathway and the impersonal-sex pathway.
In the hostile-masculinity pathway, the development of negative attitudes and opinions about women leads to sexual aggression. In the sexual-promiscuity pathway, early and increased sexual experiences lead to sexual aggression. While each pathway may independently predict sexual aggression, the Confluence Model also asserts that the pathways can interact to predict sexual aggression. According to the model, individuals who have both high levels of hostile masculinity and high levels of approval for impersonal sex should be most likely to display sexual aggression. The Confluence Model has been tested several times with different populations and has been found to explain about 30 percent of the frequency and severity of sexual aggression xi (Hall et al., 2005; Malamuth, 1996; Malamuth et al., 1991 and 1995). Additional research has suggested correlates and precursors to sexual aggression (which includes both legal and illegal behavior), but none is an accurate way to predict who will perpetrate sexual assault at any particular time. Researchers are continuing to work to better explain the etiology of sexual assault perpetration.
Behaviors of Male Perpetrators Who Sexually Assault Female Victims: