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Supporting Survivors: The Roles of Rape Myths and Feminism in University Resident Assistants’ Response to Sexual Assault Disclosure Scenarios

Abstract

Sexual assault is a widespread and deleterious issue on U.S. college campuses. Resident assistants (RAs) in university housing are in a unique position to support students who experience sexual assault. RAs’ typical job roles, U.S. federal laws (e.g., Title IX), and institutional policies require them to respond to disclosures in particular ways, for instance, by providing emotional support and referring survivors to resources. These responses to disclosures can affect survivors’ well-being—positively and negatively—but help providers do not always respond consistently. The current study examined how feminist beliefs and rape myth acceptance (RMA) predicted RAs’ provision of material support (i.e., referring survivors to the campus sexual assault center) and emotional support (e.g., empathizing, consoling) in response to sexual assault disclosure scenarios. Data were collected from 300 undergraduate RAs at a large U.S. university. Results indicated that RAs with stronger feminist beliefs were significantly more likely to provide material support. Conversely, RAs with higher RMA were less likely to provide material and emotional support. An interaction between gender and RMA illustrated that men with higher RMA were least likely to provide material support. These findings demonstrate the need for improved training for RAs, as well as other first responders, around rape myths and responses to sexual assault.

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Acknowledgements

The present research was made possible by funding from CEW Riecker Graduate Student Research Grant, IRWG Graduate Student Research Award, Rackham Graduate Student Research Grant, Psychology Department Dissertation Grant, and Women’s Studies Research Funds Grant. An earlier version of this article was the second author’s honors thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of Michigan.

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Correspondence to Kathryn J. Holland.

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Appendix

Appendix

Sexual Assault Scenarios
1. Alice gets so drunk at a party that her friend Nick has to help her get home. Alice passed out when they got to her room and Nick had sex with her.
2. John attacks Noel in the parking lot next to the library at 10 pm. She screams “No,” but he holds her down, pulls off her pants, and has sex with her.
3. Tasha is sleeping in her dorm room. Her roommate’s boyfriend Steve starts fondling her breasts. Steve stops when Tasha wakes up and yells.
4. Luke and Dana have been dating for a few months. One night, Luke wants to have anal sex but Dana does not want to. He threatens to end the relationship if they don’t. They have anal sex.
5. Tina agrees to let Paul give her oral sex. After a few minutes, Paul pulls off his pants and inserts his penis in her vagina. Tina did not want to have intercourse, and tells him to stop. Paul does not stop.
6. Helena is having sex with Adam in his room, and his friend Tim walks in. Adam tells him to “go for it.” Helena does not want to have sex with Tim too. Before she can say anything, Tim starts having sex with her.
  1. Contact the first author for the policy definitions of “sexual misconduct” and “consent” that were used when creating the scenarios

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Holland, K.J., Gustafson, A.M., Cortina, L.M. et al. Supporting Survivors: The Roles of Rape Myths and Feminism in University Resident Assistants’ Response to Sexual Assault Disclosure Scenarios. Sex Roles 82, 206–218 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-019-01048-6

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Keywords

  • Sexual assault
  • Social support
  • Feminist identity
  • Rape myth acceptance
  • Resident assistants