The Influence of Sexual Orientation on Attributions of Blame toward Victims of Sexual Assault

The Influence of Sexual Orientation on Attributions of Blame toward Victims of Sexual Assault – Katheryn E. Morrison & Cory L. Pedersen

Although research has studied perceptions of blame toward heterosexual and homosexual sexual assault victims, no research has assessed perceptions of blame toward bisexual victims. The present study examined perceptions of blame toward a female sexual assault victim to determine whether the victim’s sexual orientation would impact the level of blame. Although no previous researchers have included bisexual victims in their studies, there are reasons to believe that this population would be subject to more blame than either gay or straight victims. The majority of discrimination toward bisexual females stems from the misconception that such women are highly sexual, promiscuous, and untrustworthy. Studies examining the role of sexualization on victim blaming have shown that when female victims – whose sexual orientation is unknown – are perceived as highly sexual, participants tend to exhibit more blaming attitudes and less concern toward the victim, compared to female victims not portrayed this way.

Three hypotheses were tested: First, that the bisexual victim would be blamed significantly more than either the heterosexual or homosexual victims; second, that the straight victim would be blamed significantly more than all other victims, and last, that male participants would hold more blaming attitudes overall, regardless of condition. In a 4 (heterosexual victim, homosexual victim, bisexual victim, no orientation specified) X 2 (participant gender) randomized experimental design, participants read a vignette depicting the sexual assault of a woman. Participants were then asked about their perceptions of blame toward both the victim and perpetrator of the incident.

Results indicated significant differences among sexual orientation groups.  That is, straight and bisexual victims were blamed significantly more than victims in the control condition. No significant differences were found among conditions (i.e., the straight/bisexual/gay victim was perceived similarly by participants), and no significant differences between genders.  Though not initially proposed as a hypothesis, we did find significant differences between disclosure groups; specifically, that knowing a sexual assault victim significantly decreased victim blame and led to more negative perceptions of the perpetrator.

This study is important given that the blame victims face as a result of being assaulted affects whether they choose to disclose their assault, the failure of which can lead to negative mental health outcomes. Ultimately, the current study is a first step in understanding whether bisexual assault victims are treated differently than their heterosexual or homosexual counterparts.

Poster presented at the Western Psychological Association Conference, Las Vegas, 2015.