The feminizing effect of sexual violence in third-party perceptions of male and female victims

Eva Mulder, Antony Pemberton, Ad Vingerhoets

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Various scholars have noted that the label "victim" frequently elicits connotations of stereotypical, passive femininity— especially when the crime entails rape or other forms of sexual violence. In three online experimental studies, British respondents were recruited to test whether written information about a sexual assault led observers to perceive the victim as more feminine in terms of character traits and facial appearance. Study 1 (n = 139) compared observers’ perceptions of a male victim to a man accused of sexual assault and a control condition. Study 2 (n = 165) was a conceptual replication, replacing the male with a female target. Study 3 (n = 278) extended Study 1 by adding a condition with a male victim of physical assault and another with a
man who had engaged in consensual homosexual sex in order to assess whether feminizing effects were unique to victimization by sexual assault. Results revealed partial support for the feminization hypothesis. Male and female victims were consistently attributed fewer proscriptive masculine traits than target persons in other conditions, as well as more prescriptive feminine traits than target persons in the accused condition. Results for the feminization of facial features were inconsistent. We discuss potential implications of the results for sexual violence awareness-raising campaigns and understanding victims’ potential identity struggles.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-27
Number of pages15
JournalSex Roles
Issue number82
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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