Study Says That Sexual Objectification Increases College Women’s Vulnerability to Sexual Assault

A new study by researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found that women who are repeatedly ogled by men become hyper-conscious of their appearance and sex appeal, contributing to low assertiveness in sexual situations. This leads to an increased risk of being forced into sexual acts, according to the authors of the study. The results of interviews with hundreds of women undergraduates found that women who frequently experience sexual objectification – leers, comments, and come-ons based on their bodies – were also more likely to experience sexual victimization. The study also found that women who intensely monitor their appearance are often less sexually assertive and less able to refuse unwanted sexual advances.

Franz_headshot[1]Lead author Molly Franz, a graduate student in the clinical psychology training program at the University of Nebraska, stated that “body surveillance – a habitual monitoring of outward appearance – may reflect a core belief that one’s value rests predominantly on one’s sexual appeal to others. Such a belief may erode assertiveness in sexual situations, as women increasingly come to view their sexuality as subject to the will of others. Their preoccupation with how others see them may prevent them from recognizing their own desires.”

The authors are aware that their study will appear to some as blaming the victim for sexual assaults. But they maintain that this is not the case. “Although the fault of sexual violence always lies with the perpetrator – and work to prevent perpetration is essential – it is also important to understand factors that increase women’s vulnerability to sexual assault,” Franz said.

Co-author David DiLillo, a professor of psychology at the University of Nebraska, added that “First and foremost, interventions aimed at reducing men’s objectification of women are needed. When objectification does occur, risk can be reduced by teaching women ways to combat the tendency to internalize these sexualized messages, which may bolster assertiveness in unwanted sexual situations.”

The study, “Sexual Objectification and Sexual Assault: Do Self-Objectification and Sexual Assertiveness Account for the Link?” was published on the website of the journal Psychology of Violence. It may be accessed here. Sarah Gervais, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Nebraska, was also a co-author of the study.

Filed Under: Research/StudySexual Assault/Harassment


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