Eastern Student Presents Research

            Compare Effects of Sexual Assault on Rape Myth Acceptance and Empathy

Potter 1Jolene Potter ‘18 was one of two Eastern Connecticut State University students to present her research study as an oral presentation at Eastern’s Annual Psychological Science Afternoon On Nov. 27. This is Potter’s second research study on sexual assault and her latest study is titled, “A Comparison of the Effect of Sexual Assault Micro-Interventions on Rape Myth Acceptance and Empathy.”

A Dayville native who majors in psychology, Potter became inspired to study the effectiveness of sexual assault programs following her first research study in which she examined how students defined, perceived and perpetuated notions about rape culture.

“Sexual assault is a major public health concern in the United States and across the globe. Every 98 seconds another person in America experiences sexual assault,” said Potter. “Due to the prevalence of sexual assault on campuses around the country, many universities have implemented more education and prevention programs. As a result I wanted to examine the effectiveness of different programming strategies in a college student sample.”

For her research Potter wanted to examine rape myth acceptance and rape victim empathy across two sexual assault interventions – one that designed to increase sexual assault knowledge through definitions, statistics and policy information and another that was a testimonial from a sexual assault victim.

A cornerstone of Potter’s research is examining rape myth acceptance. “Rape myths are false beliefs aboutPotter Jolene rape that serve to deny and justify sexual aggression,” she said. “Rape myth acceptance occurs when an individual supports beliefs consistent with rape.” Common examples of rape myths include the notion that most perpetrators of sexual assault are strangers to the victim, that provocative clothing provokes rape, and that false reports of rape and sexual assault are common, all of which have been refuted in past research.

Potter’s research also examined rape victim empathy. “In the context of rape, victim empathy is the capacity to understand the point of view, emotions and reactions of the victim.”

“While programs focused specifically on risk reduction, definitions, statistical data and institutional policy tend to be successful in increasing sexual assault knowledge, prior research has shown them to be less successful when compared to programs designed to decrease rape-supportive attitudes, reduce acceptance of myths and increase empathy,” said Potter. “Therefore, I wanted to compare two types of interventions.”

Potter reports that her findings suggest that “testimonial-based interventions may be more effective at decreasing rape myth acceptance and increasing rape victim empathy when compared to programs that are more definition, statistic and policy-oriented.”

These findings have the potential to foster an environment where victims feel safer reporting an assault, thereby leading to the utilization of more support services.

“I would like to extend my gratitude to Dr. Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault for the opportunity to conduct this research as well as for her continued guidance in the completion of this study,” said Potter.”

“I hope to continue researching these issues so that I may contribute to policies and practices that provide more protection to victims as well as more comprehensive, organized and useful information to students,” added Potter. “Eastern has continually supported my research, illustrating their commitment to increasing knowledge and advocating for survivors.”