Through Women's Eyes: Defining Danger in the Wake of Sexual Assault


Department of Sociology, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA 17837.


Most women who have been sexually assaulted see at least some situations in the world as being more dangerous following their assault experiences. Based on in-depth interviews with 94 women who were either raped or avoided being raped during an attack, this study examines the effect of the events that occurred during the attack and the circumstances surrounding the attack as factors that determine later perceptions of danger. Women who have been raped are more likely to change their perceptions of the safety of the world in radical ways than women who have avoided being raped, although women who avoid being raped often make substantial reassessments as well. For both raped women and avoiders, one's likelihood of making a radical change in one's perceptions of dangerousness depended to a large degree on the sort of situation in which the attack took place. Women were less likely to change their perceptions of dangerousness if the attack took place in a situation where they believed they were in some danger before the attack. If the attack took place in circumstances which the women defined as safe, however, a much more extreme reaction was likely to occur.