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Study: Athletes’ Beliefs about Women Tied to Higher Rates of Sexual Assault

Northern Arizona University contributed to a recent study that suggests sexual violence is widespread among college-age athletic men. That was linked to athletes’ attitudes towards women.

The study is the first to include men who play a sport for recreation, as well as intercollegiate athletes. It asked 379 men to anonymously report sexually coercive behaviors—almost all of which qualified as rape. More than half the athletes admitted to using verbal threats or physical aggression to force a partner into sex, compared to a third of non-athletes.

The survey also asked about attitudes towards women, says lead author Belinda-Rose Young, formerly of the University of South Florida. “We found that athletes—both recreational and intercollegiate—compared to non-athletes had lower opinions of women,” Young says. “This was measured by how firmly they held onto negative traditional gender role beliefs.”

For example, athletes were more likely to believe women should focus on becoming good wives and mothers. They were also more likely to dismiss or redefine rape, for instance, by saying it’s not rape if the woman doesn’t fight back.

Julie Baldwin of Northern Arizona University is a coauthor on the study. “It’s a major public health issue,” Baldwin says. “We need to address this. It’s disconcerting in some ways that these beliefs are still so prevalent.”

The study was limited to mostly heterosexual students at one southeastern university. It appeared in the journal Violence Against Women in May.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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