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Survey

ADOLESCENT DATING ATTITUDES
1998 SURVEY RESULTS

Day one (formerly the Sexual Assault & Trauma Resource Center of RI and RI Rape Crisis Center) has been actively engaged in presenting state-of-the-art sexual abuse prevention programming in schools for the past fifteen years.

For more than ten years we have been evaluating the programs for students in grades six through nine through pre- and post-program questionnaires designed to measure the effectiveness of our workshops by assessing knowledge increase and attitude change.

In 1988, some of our data gained national attention when we reported the results of our pre-program questionnaires from the '86, '87, '88 school years which, among other things, showed that:

  • Under certain circumstances, a large number of students held the victim responsible for the assault; and
  • Many students thought that, under certain circumstances, a man on a date has the right to a sexual relationship with a woman against the woman's consent.

In the years following the publication of those survey results, both our programs and their respective pre- and post-tests have undergone considerable revision. With that in mind, we made the decision during the 1998-99 school year, to process the student data we had collected in order to compare what students reported in 1988 and what they were reporting currently.

All questions asked in '88 were not necessarily asked again in '98, nor were they necessarily asked in exactly the same way. As a result, for the purposes of this report, we are citing for comparison only those questions that were either exactly the same, or so closely similar that a reasonable person would understand them to mean the same thing.

SATRC METHODS
The Students and the Schools
In both data sets (1986-88 and 1996-99), the students surveyed were not a randomly selected population and may not be representative of all students in RI. They are a convenience sample -- students at schools requesting that we present workshops to their students. Individual schools determined which grade or grades of students received prevention education workshops. In all cases, all classes of the selected grade participated in the workshops and received pre- and post-tests.

In the 1988 study, 1700 6th to 9th grade students were surveyed. All students were given the same questionnaire, with the exception that the 6th graders were not questioned about sexual intercourse. Students attended 13 schools in 8 school systems.

In this 1998 study, 2467 6th to 9th graders were surveyed. Not all schools were given the same questionnaires (as we worked to refine them over the course of a few years). Some questions were answered by as few as 367 students or as many as 2467. Only 9th graders (841 students) were asked questions about sexual intercourse. Students attended 12 schools in 6 school systems.

The Questionnaires
The pre-program questionnaire is part of an evaluation tool used to assess the effectiveness of the presented workshop by determining the extent of the student's knowledge about, and attitude towards, topics prior to the four, in-classroom training sessions. Questionnaires are administered by workshop leaders. Teachers are also present.

All questionnaires are answered privately and anonymously on paper in the classroom. They differed slightly from year to year as we sought to refine the evaluation tool. On all areas of the questionnaires, students were encouraged to leave the question blank, or to answer "Not Sure" if they did not know the answer or did not want to answer any question.

Words such as "abuse" and "harassment" are not defined for students while answering the questionnaire. Students are told to skip a question if its meaning is not understood. The purpose of the questionnaire is to gain a measure of student understanding of these concepts prior to our program of instruction. Every question asked, and every issue presented on the questionnaire, is then addressed in one or more of the activities presented in the workshops.

SATRC RESULTS
Overall, we would have to report that very little has changed regarding adolescent attitudes toward dating over the ten year span. Note the following responses to questions asked in both the 1988 survey and again today:

QUESTION: Does a girl/boy on a date have the right to a kiss against the date's consent if she/he spent a lot of money on the date? Yes, No, or I Don't Know?

In 1988, 51% of boys and 41% of girls, grades 6 - 9, responded Yes to this question.
In 1998, 53% of boys and 48% of girls, grades 6 - 9, responded Yes to this question.

QUESTION: Does a man/woman on a date have the right to sexual intercourse against their date's consent if he/she spent a lot of money on the date? Yes, No, or I Don't Know?

In 1988, 24% of boys and 16% of girls, grades 7 - 9, responded Yes to this question.
In 1998, 23% of boys and 20% of girls in grade 9 responded Yes to this question.

Note: The actual amount of "a lot of money" was never defined for the students during the administering of the questionnaires. However, when discussing this question in the workshops, we often asked students what they would consider to be "a lot of money" spent on a date. Between 1986-88 they often responded with amounts between $10 and $25. From 1996-98, they most frequently responded with amounts between $50 and $100.

QUESTION: Does a man/woman on a date have a right to sexual intercourse against their date's consent if they have had intercourse before? Yes, No, or I Don't Know?

In 1988, 70% of boys and 54% of girls, grades 7 - 9, responded Yes to this question.
In 1998, 70% of boys and 53% of girls in grade 9 responded Yes to this question.

QUESTION: Does a man/woman on a date have the right to sexual intercourse against their date's consent if they have dated a long time? Yes, No, or I Don't Know?

In 1988, 65% of boys and 47% of girls, grades 7 - 9, responded Yes to this question.
In 1998, 62% of boys and 58% of girls in grade 9 responded Yes to this question.

QUESTION: Does a man have the right to sexual intercourse against the woman's consent if they are married? Yes, No, or I Don't Know?

In 1988, 87% of boys and 79% of girls, grades 7 - 9, responded Yes to this question.
In 1998, 73% of boys and 78% of girls in grade 9 responded Yes to this question.

QUESTION: Does a man on a date have the right to a kiss against the woman's consent if she is drunk? Yes, No or I Don't Know?

In 1988, 36% of 1700 students, grades 6 - 9, responded Yes to this question.
In 1998, 41% of 923 students, grades 7 - 9, responded Yes to this question.

Question: Does a man on a date have the right to sexual intercourse against the woman's consent if she is drunk? Yes, No or I Don't Know?

In 1988, 28% of 1700 students, grades 7-9, responded Yes to this question.
In 1998, 24% of 367 9th grade students, responded Yes to this question.

These graphs indicate that significantly more students received pre-tests containing these questions in the 1988 study than in the recent survey. Results of these questions have not been tabulated by the sex of the students.

While these percentages are not as large as some of the others reported in this survey, they tend to follow the trend we have seen elsewhere: that a significant number of our young people believe that, under certain conditions, it is acceptable to take advantage of a date.

As is true of other questions pertaining to intercourse, this question relates to a situation that is considered to be rape, and it is a crime. For a victim, being under the influence of alcohol or drugs does not mean that it is acceptable or legal for a partner to take advantage of you. For the offender, being under the influence of alcohol or drugs does not protect you from charges of rape. Incapacitation is not a legal defense.

SATRC DISCUSSION
It is clear from the comparison of these two sets of data that youngsters today hold very much the same attitudes regarding acceptable and non-acceptable dating behaviors that youngsters held ten years ago.

It is difficult not to be surprised by the strength and tenacity of these attitudes over time, and by the fact that -- with only slight variation -- girls as well as boys seem to have accepted these attitudes as beliefs.

The belief that one person has the right to either a kiss or to intercourse when their date is objecting to that kiss or to intercourse, may place many young people at risk in a variety of ways:

  • Young people who think that one person has the right to sexual behaviors against the consent of their partner may become accepting, and perhaps encouraging of abusive behaviors.
  • Young victims of sexual assault may be less likely to disclose the assault if they feel that they are somehow responsible or deserving of the abuse, or if they believe that others will think they are responsible.
  • Young people who think victims are responsible for, or deserve to be assaulted, may blame a victim who confides in them rather than assist the victim in getting help.
  • A young women with the courage to tell, may be believed, given assistance and urged to press charges against her date. At the same time, the involved young man may be charged with rape. At this point, it will not matter what beliefs or attitudes either of these individuals held. Each of the behaviors related to sexual intercourse asked about in the questionnaires fits the legal definition of "rape" in this state and in many others -- sexual intercourse against a person's consent.

One additional question was asked of students in the 1998 survey that was not asked in the 1988 survey:

Question: Have your parents ever talked to you about sexual abuse prevention? Yes, No or I Don't Know?
In 1998, 50% of Boys and 63% of Girls responded Yes to this question.

This question was answered by 1535 youngsters (grades 6 - 9), in 9 schools in 4 school districts. Approximately 50% of the boys and 63% of the girls reported that their parents had spoken with them at least once about sexual abuse prevention. Parental statements most frequently involved warning the child about stranger danger.

At first glance, it may appear promising that over half of the students had parents who had spoken with them about sexual abuse prevention. However, 50% of boys and 37% of girls had parents who had NEVER spoken with them about abuse prevention. Youngsters lacking clear messages about abuse prevention may be more at risk from interpersonal violence, and may be less likely to tell someone when they are abused.

Young people need clear information from strong adult role models, about sexual safety and respectful behavior. They need to hear from adults who do not blame victims and who place blame where it belongs -- on the offenders.

We believe that the data collected in both these surveys is alarming enough that it should alert parents and adults working with both children and adolescents to the great need for accurate information about sexual abuse and sexual harassment prevention education. This information needs to be directed toward both boys and girls from a very young age. Parents and adult role models are critical to this issue of education throughout a child's lifetime, especially in regard to setting good examples by showing respectful behavior and communication with both adults and children.

The victim-blaming attitudes and beliefs of youngsters in general may arise from a variety of sources including the family environment, the peer group, and images in the media. As adults responsible for children, we cannot change all of the societal factors impacting our young people today. However, surveys such as this one show us that our children are not safe, and that they are in need of both information and guidance if they are to become safer. They deserve to be safe and, what's more, it is our responsibility as adults to ensure that they become safe.

Our children do listen and they do learn. We, as adults, need to get beyond our own resistance and fears of talking about sexual assault, and start talking with our kids about dignity, respect and sexual safety. All around the country, there are both school and community based programs such as those offered at the Sexual Assault & Trauma Resource Center of Rhode Island which can help provide information and assistance to parents, children, adolescents, and other adults who care for children.

For information about Day One programs, please contact:

Director of Education and Training
Day One
100 Medway Street
Providence, RI 02906-4402
Tel: (401) 421-4100 x160
Fax: (401) 454-5565

Copyright 1999 The Sexual Assault & Trauma Resource Center of RI/Day One

 

 

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