Disability and Sexual Assault

The Influence of Disability on Attributions of Blame toward Victims of Sexual Assault – Alexandria Parsons, Kaylee Skoda, Kailie Brown, Katheryn Morrison, & Cory L. Pedersen

Victim blaming is a phenomenon that occurs when an individual is accredited responsibility, either in whole or in part, for a crime having occurred to them (Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime, 2009). This phenomenon has been studied with particular emphasis on its involvement in rape cases, where it is common for victims to be assigned partial or entire blame for their assault having happened (George & Martínez, 2002; Rice, Hackett, Trafimow, Hunt, & Sandry, 2012). Despite the corpus of research on victim blaming and the myriad factors that contribute to it, there remains a focus of investigation that has been largely ignored in the extant literature; victim blaming in acts of sexual assault committed against those who are physically disabled. Common stereotypes surrounding persons with disabilities include them being dependent, weak, undesirable, asexual, and lacking the same sexual needs as those who are able-bodied (Chance, 2002; Crawford & Ostrove, 2003; Drazen, 1990; Nario-Redmond, 2010).

The purpose of this study was therefore twofold; first, to contribute to a virtually unexplored area of research by investigating the extent to which the presence of a physical disability influences the attribution of victim blame in sexual assault, and second, to illustrate that women with disabilities will not be ascribed the same level of blame attributed to able-bodied victims of sexual assault – given evidence of the negative stereotypes that surround the sexuality of individuals with physically disabilities (i.e., less need for sexual intimacy and companionship). Results from a 2 (able-bodied; permanently disabled) X 2 (gender) randomized quasi-experimental factorial design indicated no effect of condition on victim blame.  Further, the victim with a disability was seen as needing more companionship and affiliation than their able-bodied counterpart. However, a gender effect found that males reported greater victim blame, more support for the perpetrator, and a greater need for sex in the vignette character, regardless of condition.

Poster presented at the Western Psychological Association convention, Long Beach CA, 2016