The Situationist

Construing “Acquaintance Rape”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 26, 2009

date rape time coverSituationist Contributor Dan Kahan recently posted his fascinating paper, “Culture, Cognition, and Consent: Who Perceives What, and Why, in ‘Acquaintance Rape’ Cases.”  Here’s the abstract.

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This paper uses the theory of cultural cognition to examine the debate over rape-law reform. Cultural cognition refers to the tendency of individuals to conform their perceptions of legally consequential facts to their defining group commitments. Results of an original experimental study (N = 1,500) confirmed the impact of cultural cognition on perceptions of fact in a controversial acquaintance-rape case. The major finding was that a hierarchical worldview, as opposed to an egalitarian one, inclined individuals to perceive that the defendant reasonably understood the complainant as consenting to sex despite her repeated verbal objections. The effect of hierarchy in inclining subjects to favor acquittal was greatest among women; this finding was consistent with the hypothesis that hierarchical women have a distinctive interest in stigmatizing rape complainants whose behavior deviates from hierarchical gender norms. The study also found that cultural predispositions have a much larger impact on outcome judgments than do legal definitions, variations in which had either no or a small impact on the likelihood subjects would support or oppose conviction. The paper links date-rape reform to a class of controversies in law that reflect symbolic status competition between opposing cultural groups, and addresses the normative implications of this conclusion.

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You can download the paper for free here.  To read a sample of related Situationist post see “The Situation of Blaming Rihanna,” “What Counts as Rape?,” “Unrecognized Injustice — The Situation of Rape,” The Cultural Situation of the HPV Vaccine – Abstract,” “Law, Chicken Sexing, Torture Memo, and Situation Sense,” “Culture and Identity-Protective Cognition – Abstract,” “The Second National Risk and Culture Study – Abstract,” and “Whose Eyes are You Going to Believe?.”

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