Sex-attack men 'asking for it'

July 24, 1998

Homophobia and mad cows: Alison Goddard reports from the British Psychological Society conference

A gay man who is sexually assaulted is often blamed for the attack, and a man who is sexually assaulted by a woman can also expect little sympathy, researchers have found.

Michelle Davies of the University of Central Lancashire told the conference that "victim counselling services need to be aware of people's reactions to these attacks when counselling victims. Otherwise," she said, "the victim's recovery is prevented."

Ms Davies asked 161 students to read a description of a sexual assault that took place at a party. She varied the story so that Martin, a homosexual, was attacked by Dave or Dianne. In another scenario, a heterosexual Martin was assaulted by Dave or Dianne. On no occasion did Martin know his attacker.

She then asked the students a series of questions designed to measure the attribution of blame towards the victim and the perpetrator. The questions included how responsible the students thought Martin was for the attack, and whether Dave or Dianne should be punished.

She found a big difference between the attitudes of men and women. Men blamed Martin for the attacks more than women did. In particular, the homosexual Martin was blamed for Dianne's attack; the heterosexual Martin was also blamed for Dave's attack.

The men also regarded Dianne more favourably than Dave, no matter which Martin she attacked.

"The men were more homophobic. They seem to believe the myth that men enjoy sex whatever the context," said Ms Davies.

The women, meanwhile, were more sympathetic. "Women are known to be more afraid of sex attacks. When they were given the scenario, they empathised with the victim regardless of his sexual preference," Ms Davies said.

If anything, the attitudes unveiled by Ms Davies are likely to underplay those of society in general. "Student samples tend to be more liberal," she pointed out.

Ms Davies hopes to repeat the survey with members of the public. Another possibility would be to survey the attitudes of homosexuals, since 98 per cent of her respondents were heterosexual.

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