Characterizing Sexual Violence in Intimate Relationships: An Examination of Blame Attributions and Rape Acknowledgment

J Interpers Violence. 2021 Jan;36(1-2):469-490. doi: 10.1177/0886260517726972. Epub 2017 Aug 31.


Rape by an intimate partner frequently involves a precedence of sexual consent between victim and perpetrator, often does not include the use of physical force, and may not fit societal definitions of rape. Given these unique characteristics, women who are assaulted by an intimate partner may be less likely to acknowledge the experience as a rape. In turn, they might make fewer blame attributions toward themselves and their perpetrators than victims of rape by a nonpartner. Consistent with these expectations, results from 208 community women reporting rape in adulthood revealed the presence of indirect effects of perpetrator type (nonpartner vs. intimate partner) on both behavioral self-blame and perpetrator blame through rape acknowledgment, even when controlling for both victim substance use at the time of the assault and coercion severity. Compared with women who experienced a rape by a nonpartner, women who experienced rape in the context of a marital or dating relationship were less likely to blame themselves or the perpetrator for the assault, in part because they were less likely to label their experience as a rape. Overall, these findings highlight the unique nature of intimate partner rape and provide further information about the relatively underresearched area of sexual violence in intimate relationships.

Keywords: intimate partner sexual assault; marital rape; sexual coercion; victim–offender relationship; violence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Crime Victims*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Rape*
  • Sex Offenses*
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Sexual Partners