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The effect of victim resistance on rape completion: A meta-analysis.

Wong, J.S. & Balemba, S. (2018).

Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 19(3), 352 - 365.


When confronted with a rapist, women are understandably concerned with avoiding rape completion. Results from this literature review suggest that women who resist their attacker (physical, verbal, or resistance of any kind) are significantly more likely to avoid the rape. Importantly, the study notes risks, including increased victim injury, that accompany resistance.

Expanded Abstract:

Sexual assaults cause psychological and emotional harm to victims, physical injuries, and in extreme cases death (Mieczkowski & Beauregard, 2010; Scott & Beaman, 2004). While each rape and the experience of the victim is unique, studies find that harm is often intensified when vaginal, anal, or oral penetration occur (i.e., completed rape) (e.g., Ullman, 2007). The majority of research focusing on rape completion has found that victim resistance decreases the likelihood of a sexual assault culminating in penetration (Sarah Ullman, 2007), but it may not be that simple. For example, Hazelwood, Reboussin, and Warren (1989) examined the effects of resistance in a sample of serial rapists who had committed 10 or more sex crimes and found that serial offenders took a great deal more pleasure in offenses in which the victim resisted.

The current study provides a systematic review and meta-analysis (combined analysis of all existing data on a subject) of the existing literature on the relationship between victim resistance and rape completion.

This study found that rape resisters are more likely than nonresisters to avoid a completed rape. This finding holds true for physical resistance, verbal resistance, or resistance of any kind; and when different types of resistance are compared, physical resistance was the most likely to result in rape avoidance when compared to nonresisters. While significant research shows that resisting rape reduces the likelihood of rape completion, important debates continue regarding the effects of victim self-protective measures on victim injury. While some research claims resistance does not increase a victim’s likelihood of injury (e.g., Tark & Kleck, 2014), there are just as many who contend that victim resistance increases a victim’s chance and/or degree of injury (e.g., Yun & Lee, 2014).

The debate between preventing rape completion and risking victim injury poses a dilemma that complicates creating blanket guidelines for women to consider in the face of sexual assault. Combined, the information suggests that the victim of a sexual assault is faced with a ghastly decision: should she risk injury for a decreased likelihood of rape completion? This dilemma is particularly contentious when considering the effects on the victim when she does not resist an assault. Many women might choose to fight off an attacker, even if it resulted in increased injury, to try to avoid a penetrative assault. A victim who does not resist might face more barriers within the justice system and may be less believed by law enforcement or juries. Further, a non-resisting victim may receive less support from a spouse or partner and the psychological damage sometimes caused by not fully resisting can be as damaging as any physical scars or injuries (e.g., Rozee & Koss, 2001). Victims who are passive or ‘‘freeze’’ during an assault may blame themselves, experience feelings of shame and guilt, and be less likely to seek help from victim services or report the crime (Galliano et al., 1993). Thus, advising victims to reduce their level of resistance to avoid injury may in some circumstances do more harm than good.

Researchers conducting this study believe the results from the current analysis represent valuable information of which victims should be aware. Should a victim choose to resist her assailant—in particular by using physical resistance—she may escape a completed assault but end up incurring more injuries. Whether additional (potentially serious) physical injuries but no penetrative assault would be considered a more or less deleterious outcome is up to the individual to decide.


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