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‘Logically, I know I’m not to blame, but I still feel to blame’: Exploring and measuring victim blaming and self-blame of women who have been subjected to sexual violence

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Thesis Summary Victim blaming and self-blame are common experiences for women who have been subjected to sexual violence and abuse. This thesis employs a comprehensive mixed-methods approach from a critical relativist feminist epistemology which includes a review of the literature of victim blaming of women, the development and initial validation of a new psychometric measure of victim blaming of women (BOWSVA Scale), two qualitative studies exploring understanding of victim blaming and self-blame with women who have experienced sexual violence and professionals who work in sexual violence support; resulting in a final discussion proposing a new integrated model of victim blaming of women. Research aims and methodology Study 1: Interviews with women who have been subjected to sexual violence and abuse This study utilised a semi-structured interview framework to explore the way women construct their understanding and experiences of victim blaming and self-blame through talk. Through interviews with nine women aged 19 to 76 years old, participants were asked to consider why they thought women were blamed for sexual violence, why women might blame themselves for sexual violence along with their own experiences of being blamed by others and blaming the self. The study sought to provide a more nuanced view of the experience of victim blaming and self-blame from women who had experienced diverse forms of sexual violence throughout the lifespan. The interview data was analysed using critical discursive analysis from a feminist perspective to search for patterns and themes in the way women talked about victim blaming and self-blame of themselves and other women. Study 2: Interviews with professionals who support women after sexual violence and abuse This study utilised a semi-structured interview framework identical to the first study to explore the way the professionals working with the women construct their understanding and experiences of working with women who have experienced victim blaming and self-blame after sexual violence. Through interviews with eleven professionals working in rape centres and sexual violence support services, participants were asked to consider why they thought women were blamed for sexual violence, why women might blame themselves for sexual violence along with their own professional techniques used to try to deconstruct victim blaming and self-blame narratives of women they support. The study sought to provide a comparison between women who have experienced sexual violence and the professionals who support them. The main comparison being; do women seeking support and the professionals supporting them have a similar understanding of victim blaming and self-blame – and how do the professionals try to help women to understand that it was not their fault? Study 3: Development and validation of a psychometric measure of victim blaming of women subjected to sexual violence and abuse Evaluation of the existing measures used in the victim blaming literature (Updated IRMAS, Mcmahon & Farmer, 2010; AMMSA, Gerger et al., 2007; RMAS, Burt, 1980; PVBS, Cramer et al. 2013) found that none of the existing psychometric measures were specifically built to measure the amount of blame being apportioned to the female victim and to the male perpetrator in common scenarios of sexual violence towards women. Instead, the psychometric measures were found to be testing for constructs such as sexism, rape myths, victim characteristics, perpetrator myths and general attitudes towards sexual violence. This finding led to the development and validation study of the Blame of Women subjected to Sexual Violence and Abuse Scale (BOWSVA Scale). In this study, previous measures were evaluated using concept mapping and content analysis to discover the gaps and problems with previous measurement approaches to victim blaming. The BOWSVA items containing manipulated sexual violence scenarios in which women were assaulted by men, were then developed after a team of peer experts were consulted for face validity. The resulting BOWSVA items were tested on over 450 adults in the general population to generate enough data to conduct factor analysis to develop and test the items as a psychometric construct to measure the apportioning of blame to women who have experienced sexual violence or abuse. A 7-factor solution was derived and accepted in principle, with much more research required to continue to validate the measure and items.
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... The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (2015) suggests that offensive banter, jokes and unwelcome sexual advances are some of the behaviours that are part of this continuum of behaviour, while Holland and Cortina (2013) contend that some individuals who experience these behaviours are sometimes unable to recognise them as sexual harassment. Furthermore, societies as well as individual attitudes and behaviours towards violence, women and the serious nature of different forms of sexual harassment can be both explicitly and implicitly condoned by social norms, thus trivialising the impact of sexual harassment (Chug et al., 2012;Our Watch., 2015;Campbell et al., 2018;Eaton, 2019). ...
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