Shades of gray: A qualitative study of terms used in the measurement of sexual victimization

Sherry L. Hamby, Mary P. Koss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


Methodological analyses of sexual victimization research are still rare, despite the explosion of interest in this topic and widely varying rates across studies. In-depth analysis of the meaning of differences in rates is especially lacking. A series of five ethnically and geographically diverse focus groups were held to explore how wording in sexual victimization surveys affects the reporting of various types of negative sexual experiences. Participants provided rich formulations about sexual intercourse that suggest there is a wide range of coercion, from peer pressure to lose one's virginity to partner pressure to demonstrate one's commitment to stereotypical forced rape. Focus group participants asserted that many terms that are often used synonymously, such as unwanted, nonvoluntary, and forced, have distinct meanings. They also described how different social pressures on women and men, and differences in physical size lead to inevitable differences in perceptions of coerciveness. Although recent sexual victimization surveys have increased the specificity of descriptions of sexual acts, these findings suggest that it is equally important to be precise in communicating what is meant by coercion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)243-255
Number of pages13
JournalPsychology of Women Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Psychology


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