Views of women and acceptance of ‘rape myths’ lead to higher rates of sexual coercion by male athletes

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New research led by the University of South Florida College of Public Health finds the prevalence of sexual coercion by athletes is higher than that by non-athletes due to a difference in attitudes toward women.

The study, “Sexual Coercion Practices among Undergraduate Male Recreational Athletes, Intercollegiate Athletes, and Non-Athletes,” is published in the journal Violence Against Women.

Researchers from USF, NC State, Northern Arizona University and Emory University surveyed 379 male undergraduates, including 191 non-athletes, 29 intercollegiate athletes and 159 recreational (intramural) athletes.

Basketball players holding the ball. Fairplay concept.

Participants were asked about their sexual behavior, attitudes toward women and the degree to which they accepted rape myths—beliefs that excuse rape, such as if the woman does not fight back or is believed to be drunk.

Results indicate that male athletes, regardless of intercollegiate or recreational status, hold a more traditional view of gender roles and a higher affinity for rape myth acceptance than non-athletes, and were also more likely to engage in verbal or physical means to pressure an individual to engage in unwanted sexual activity.

Lead author Belinda-Rose Young, who conducted the study while she was a graduate student in the USF College of Public Health’s Department of Community and Family Health, is currently an ORISE fellow with the Prevention Research Centers Program, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Sarah Desmarais of North Carolina State University, Dr. Julie Baldwin of Northern Arizona University and Dr. Rasheeta Chandler of Emory University served as co-authors of this research.

“Prior research has shown that cultural and environmental factors of athletics contributes to sexual violence. Aspects such as aggression and misogynistic discourse are praised within male-only sports.” Young said. “It’s not uncommon for a group of athletes to call a young man by a female’s name if they are doing something wrong, such as ‘c’mon Nancy we don’t have all day.’ These aspects, and others, are also prominent in recreational athletics.”

This study is the first to compare intercollegiate and recreational athletes.

Results show no significant differences between recreational and intercollegiate athletes’ views toward women, acceptance of rape myths or rate of sexual coercion.

a baseball player with a mitt and ball

However, of those surveyed, 54.3 percent of intercollegiate and recreational athletes and 37.9 percent of non-athletes had engaged in sexually coercive behaviors.

The Department of Education wrote a “Dear Colleague” letter in 2011 recommending that universities provide sexual violence educational programs for coaches and student athletes among other groups.

“Our research emphasizes particular areas—namely traditional gender role beliefs, and rape myth acceptance—which should be included, and that those programs be made available to recreational athletes as well,” Young said. “Lastly, due to the fact that one-third of non-athletes indicated that they engage in verbal sexual coercion, programs should seek to educate all collegiate men on why sexual coercion is wrong and the potential impact on the recipients of the coercion.”

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Young, B.-R., Desmarais, S., Baldwin, J., Chandler, R. Sexual Coercion Practices among Undergraduate Male Recreational Athletes, Intercollegiate Athletes, and Non-Athletes. Violence Against Women [Internet]. 2016 May 30. Available from: http://vaw.sagepub.com/content/early/2016/05/30/1077801216651339.abstract

Note: This study was conducted while Belinda-Rose Young was affiliated with the University of South Florida and represent the views of the authors. The study and the results were not commissioned or reviewed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

 

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