Category: Assessment

PS6- #C85 - Modification of a Measure of Empathy Toward Survivors of Sexual Assault

Friday, Nov 17
2:45 PM – 3:45 PM
Location: Indigo Ballroom CDGH, Level 2, Indigo Level

Keywords: Assessment | Cognitive Biases / Distortions | Emotion

Rape myths are “prejudicial, stereotyped, or false beliefs about rape, rape [survivors], and rapists” that serve to create “a climate hostile to rape [survivors]” (Burt, 1980, p. 217). These beliefs are commonly held and resistant to change (Lonsway & Fitzgerald, 1994), reflecting the influence of Bronfenbrenner’s macrosystem (Campbell et al., 2009). Consistent with this, several studies demonstrate men and women endorse rape myth acceptance (RMA), and holding these beliefs could influence men’s behavior in ways that increase the likelihood of sexual assault (SA) (Suarez & Gadalla, 2010), negatively affect female survivors’ help-seeking and recovery (Campbell et al., 2009), and impact individuals’ willingness to intervene in a SA situation (McMahon, 2010). Individuals may hold seemingly opposing personal beliefs and attitudes (i.e., show ambivalence) toward survivors and rape myths, showing empathy for the former and acceptance of the latter (Buddie & Miller, 2002) due to cultural socialization. Extant measures assessing empathy (e.g., the Rape Empathy Scale [RES] by Deitz et al., 1982) have relied on items that force a choice between empathy for female survivors or endorsing rape myths, limiting the ability to assess this type of ambivalence. To address this concern, RES items were separated into their opposing halves and a 5-point Likert scale with anchors of strongly disagree (1) and strongly agree (5) was used to assess agreement with each item in a sample of 73 college students (Harris, Shepp, & Duran, 2016). Items that were empathetic to the perpetrator were reverse scored, so that a higher empathy score reflected greater empathy toward the survivor, and items that challenged RMA were reverse scored, so that higher scores indicated a greater degree of RMA. Subscales assessing empathy and RMA were then created by taking the mean of the respective items. The RMA and empathy subscales were significantly negatively correlated (r=-.677, p < .001), but, as expected, were not perfectly correlated. We subsequently conducted a one-sample t-test to explore differences in responding. As might be predicted from a mostly female sample (n=57), empathy scores were higher (M=3.89, SD=0.57) than RMA scores (M=1.80, SD=0.63); although, there was some agreement with RMA items. As educated individuals are still susceptible to a culture that endorses RMA, it is important for those who work with this population, such as clinicians, to be aware of how their unconscious attitudes and beliefs could affect their actions. Future research could address this question by using the revised scale in a sample of clinicians and assessing the relationship between scores on the two subscales and efficacy in treating clients who are survivors of sexual assault.

Casey Harris

Graduate Student
University of Oregon

Jessica M. Cronce

Assistant Professor
University of Oregon
Eugene, Oregon