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Sexual coercion, sexual aggression, or sexual assault: how measurement impacts our understanding of sexual violence

Leana Bouffard (Department of Sociology, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, USA)
Amanda Goodson (Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas, USA)

Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research

ISSN: 1759-6599

Article publication date: 8 September 2017

Issue publication date: 16 October 2017




Definitions of rape and sexual aggression have varied widely in the research literature, resulting in a wide range of estimates for perpetration and remaining questions as to the factors that may affect involvement in sexual violence. The paper aims to discuss this issue.


The current study uses a sample of college men to assess multiple forms of measurement of sexual aggression and theoretical predictors.


Findings indicate that the different measures of sexual aggression (broad vs narrow; hypothetical vs behavioral) are significantly correlated with each other. Additionally, many theoretical predictors (rape myths, low self-control, sexual entitlement, and pornography use) are consistently related to all measurement forms. However, some variables (masculinity, peer support for violence against women, sexual partners, and alcohol and drug use) are only related to broad measures of sexual aggression, and some are related only to hypothetical (i.e. certainty of apprehension) or behavioral measures (i.e. fraternity membership).

Research limitations/implications

Because of the chosen approach, the results may lack generalizability. Findings do, however, point to important considerations in defining sexual aggression moving forward.

Practical implications

Results point to the importance of aiming policy and programs at the particular characteristics that most consistently impact sexual aggression.


This paper addresses lingering questions about the impact of differences in definition and measurement on understanding sexual aggression.



Bouffard, L. and Goodson, A. (2017), "Sexual coercion, sexual aggression, or sexual assault: how measurement impacts our understanding of sexual violence", Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research, Vol. 9 No. 4, pp. 269-278.



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