Understanding Attributions of Blame in Stranger Rape and Date Rape Situations: An Examination of Gender, Race, Identification, and Students' Social Perceptions of Rape Victims1


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    The authors wish to express their appreciation to Tamara Baker-Sucoloski, Caron Davies, and the other members of the research team who worked so hard on this project. Thanks are due to Professor Robert Boruch, who provided funding that insured an outstanding response rate when we resurveyed our freshman sample as seniors. The research for this paper was funded, in part, by a grant from the University of Pennsylvania Research Foundation. It also was partly supported by a grant from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ 89-IJ-CX-0048, Assessment and Evaluations of SMART and Related Programs, Robert Boruch, PI). Opinions expressed in it are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent official views of the University of Pennsylvania or NIJ.

  • The first and third authors have participated in a longitudinal study of college students' attitudes and behaviors under the direction of Peter Kuriloff Ed.D., who is a counseling psychologist and a Professor of Education at the University of Pennsylvania.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Susan T. Bell, 436 Mendinco Street, Brisbane, CA 94005.


This study examined factors that may influence attributions of rape victims. Three hundred and three university students completed a questionnaire, which included a measure of dispositional empathy and a vignette depicted either a date rape or a stranger rape situation. Subjects rated the extent that they blamed the rape victim as well as the degree to which they identified with the victim and perpetrator. Results indicated that male students blamed the victim to a greater extent than did female students; students consistently attributed more blame to the victim in date rape situations than they did in stranger rape situations; and, while empathy was not associated with students' attributions, perceptions of similarity to the rape victim and perpetrator were both related to attributions of blame. These findings are consistent with the notion of “judgmental leniency” presented in Shaver's defensive attribution theory (1970). Implications for rape prevention efforts and future research are also discussed.