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Scripted Reality: How Observers Make Sense of a Non-consensual Sexual Encounter

23 November 2020

Publication Date
23 November 2020

Original Abstract

Research on third party reactions to (transgressive) sexual encounters has frequently bypassed the question of how observers categorize such encounters as normal sexual experience, sexual violence, or potentially as something else. In the present study, we investigated the ways in which participants made sense of a nonconsensual sexual encounter between a man (i.e., the initiating party) and either a male or a female student (i.e., the targeted party). We specifically focused on how participants utilized sexual scripts and gender stereotypes to describe what happened and as a means of attributing responsibility to the actors. Using the Articulated Thoughts in Simulated Situations (ATSS) technique, 52 Dutch participants (26 men and 26 women) responded aloud to a vignette. Data were analyzed using discourse analysis as employed in discursive psychology. The findings demonstrated that participants constructed the event described in the vignette as normal while depicting the targeted party as abnormal and accountable. Participants strategically employed sexual scripts and gender stereotypes to describe the event as predictable and not serious and the initiating party’s actions as in little need of explanation. The targeted party was positioned as detached from this “objective reality” and was held accountable for neither following nor sufficiently breaking with the script. In consequence, the event was rendered nonthreatening. Our results illustrated the ways in which predominant discourses influence interpretations of encounters as transgressive or “just” sex, having important implications for those who seek to share their experiences of sexual violation.

Mulder, E. & Olsohn, S. (2020). Scripted Reality: How Observers Make Sense of a Non-consensual Sexual Encounter. Sex Roles. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-020-01203-4

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discursive psychology, third party sense-making, nonconsensual sex, grey area, gender


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