Attribution of responsibility to male and female rape victims as a function of similarity to the victim and number of defendants

The purpose of the present study is to investigate both male and female subjects’ attributions of responsibility to a rape victim as a function of the following variables: (1) sex of the rape victim (female vs. male); (2) level of attitudinal similarity to the victim (similar vs. dissimilar); and (3) number of rapists or defendants (1 vs. 2). The design of this experiment is a 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 factorial which includes sex of subject as a classification variable. Subjects for this experiment were undergraduate students enrolled in various sections of the introductory psychology course at California State University, Northridge. Each subject received a booklet which contained all the information for each of the eight treatment combinations as well as the posttest questionnaire. Shaver's (1970) version of defensive attribution theory, which emphasizes the role of situational and personal similarity between the subject and the stimulus person in responsibility attribution, has been successfully upheld when applied to the situation of a rape victim (de Lara and Fulero, 1974). The present study seeks to extend the defensive attribution process with regard to a rape victim by ascertaining what effect sexual similarity to the victim in addition to personal similarity as measured by attitudes has on responsibility attribution. Furthermore, the manipulation of number of rapists is intended to clarify whether the defensive attribution process will generally prevail in the attribution of responsibility to a rape victim or whether, in the case of the two rapists, a more "rational" attribution model such as Heider's (1958) will apply and yield sharply diminished attributions of responsibility to the rape victim. Ratings were obtained of the seriousness of the rape's consequences for the victim, probability that what happened to the victim as well as to the defendant could happen to the subject, and probability that a similar crime could occur again on campus. Additional measures included subjects' identification, perceived similarity, and attraction for the victim, as well as an item assessing punitiveness toward the defendant(s). Analysis of variance based on the transformed scores from the above measures overwhelmingly indicates that the rape situation is more relevant for females than for males. The main dependent variable of this study was attribution of responsibility to the victim for the rape's occurrence. The principle finding was a sex of subject X level of attitudinal similarity interaction which, when taken in conjunction with the findings of an appended control group which included a "no information" condition with respect to attitudes, directly supports the defensive attribution hypothesis.