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Person- and Incident-Level Predictors of Blame, Disclosure, and Reporting to Authorities in Rape Scenarios

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Journal of Interpersonal Violence
DOI:
10.1177/0886260518795171
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August, 2018
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research-article2018

JIVXXX10.1177/0886260518795171Journal of Interpersonal ViolenceSeibold-Simpson et al.

Original Research

Person- and
Incident-Level Predictors
of Blame, Disclosure, and
Reporting to Authorities
in Rape Scenarios

Journal of Interpersonal Violence
1­–27
© The Author(s) 2018
Article reuse guidelines:
sagepub.com/journals-permissions
https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260518795171
DOI: 10.1177/0886260518795171
journals.sagepub.com/home/jiv

Susan M. Seibold-Simpson,1
Allison M. McKinnon,2 Richard E. Mattson,2
Edwin Ortiz,2 Ann M. Merriwether,2
Sean G. Massey,2 and Ian Chiu2

Abstract
Rapes perpetrated during college are both common and underreported.
Research highlights that several person- and incident-level factors relating
to gender and sexuality may diminish reporting, by themselves and as
they pertain to attributions of blame for the assault. In this study, male
and female college students (N = 916) read vignettes describing a rape
perpetrated by a man against a woman, a man against a man, or a woman
against a man. Participants rated the blameworthiness of both perpetrator
and victim and rated the likelihood that they would disclose the rape
to social ties or health services or report it to authorities if they were
in the victim’s position. We found that male gender and heterosexual
orientation predicted higher victim blame, lower perpetrator blame,
and lower likelihood of disclosure, although relative endorsement of
masculine gender ideology seemed to be driving these associations, as well
as predicted lower likelihood of reporting to authorities. Controlling for
1SUNY

Broome Community College, Binghamton, USA
University, NY, USA

2Binghamton

Corresponding Author:
Richard E. Mattson, Department of Psychology, Binghamton University, 4400 Vestal Parkway
East, Binghamton, NY 13902-6000, USA.
Email: rmattson@binghamton.edu

2

Journal of Interpersonal Violence 00(0)

other factors, vignettes portraying a woman raping a man led to a lower
likelihood of disclosing or reporting the as; sault, compared with a maleon-female rape. We also found that the effects of female-on-male rape
and traditional masculine ideologies tied to rape disclosure partially by
decreasing blame to the perpetrator, which itself carried a unique influence
on decisions to report. Our findings overall indicate that factors related to
gender, sexuality, and blame have myriad influences and may contribute to
low rates of disclosing rape to important outlets.
Keywords
sexual assault, male victims, female offenders, reporting/disclosure, situational
factors
Rape frequently goes unreported (Fisher, Daigle, Cullen, & Turner, 2003;
James & Lee, 2015), both per se and relative to other violent crimes (Rennison
& Rand, 2003). Those who disclose being raped tend to adjust better (e.g.,
Orchowski, Untied, & Gidycz, 2013), perhaps owing to the increased likelihood of being connected to material supports and health resources (Ullman,
1999). However, deciding whether or not to disclose being raped is a multifaceted and complex choice point, with victims fearing negative treatment
from third parties (e.g., Ahrens, 2006), as well as potential retaliation from
perpetrators (Wolitzky-Taylor et al., 2011). Nevertheless, decisions not to
report contribute to the low rate of incarceration for rapists, with some estimates being as low as 1% (U.S. Department of Justice, 2015).
The issue of underreporting may be especially problematic on college
campuses, given that rates of reporting tend to be lower therein (Fisher,
Cullen, & Turner, 2000), and evidence suggests that many perpetrators of
campus rape are repeat offenders (Lisak & Miller, 2002). Offenders who do
not face criminal proceedings or expulsion pose a significant threat to the
safety of potential future victims. Disclosure of assaults to peers may enable
individuals to avoid or limit interactions with potential repeat offenders; as
such, lack of disclosure may preclude this possibility and unduly inflate perceptions of campus safety. In addition, reticence to report rape undermines
estimates of its occurrence, which can influence the behavior of campus
administrators who are in a position to enact policy changes, preventive
efforts, and victim outreach (Orchowski, Meyer, & Gidycz, 2009). As the
underreporting of rape by college students has several important implications
for their health and safety, research examining potential reasons for the low
rates of disclosure on college campuses is of high value.

Seibold-Simpson et al.

3

There also is a dearth of research on disclosure decisions by male rape
victims. Although underreporting may obscure estimates on its occurrence, men are also victims of rape (Chapleau, Oswald, & Russell, 2008),
perhaps especially in college settings (Struckman-Johnson & StruckmanJohnson, 1991). Though limited, the available evidence suggests that the
circumstances under which these rapes occur are similar to those for
female victims (e.g., a perpetrator known by the victim; Hodge & Canter,
1998), as are the psychological consequences (e.g., Mezey & King, 1989).
Unfortunately, the reality of male rape is often attributed only to prison
settings or gay male subcultures (Pino & Meier, 1999), with these and
other stereotypes being impediments to reporting by male victims
(Donnelly & Kenyon, 1996).

Attributions of Blame and the Disclosure of Sexual
Victimization
Unlike other forms of assault, rape victims are often blamed for having been
assaulted. Many argue that this bias stems from prevailing rape myths that
apportion blame to victims who presumably could have avoided, incited, or
perhaps even wanted and enjoyed the sexual assault (e.g., Du Mont, Miller,
& Myhr, 2003). Victims are exonerated from blame only when the details of
the sexual assault match the script of the “classic” rape (Williams, 1984),
that is, an unknown perpetrator, a female victim, bodily injuries, physical
resistance, and a victim who did not “provoke” the attack through her behavior, attire, or state of intoxication. Those subject to assaults that deviate from
the classic rape script are judged more harshly. For instance, individuals
attribute more blame to victims in assault scenarios wherein the victim consumed alcohol, violated gender norms, or had a previous acquaintance with
the perpetrator (Grubb & Turner, 2012; Monson, Langhinrichsen-Rohling,
& Binderup, 2000).
The common tendency for people to blame victims in instances of rape
likely contributes to why it is infrequently reported to third parties. Indeed, a
defining feature of victim-blaming rape myths is their pervasiveness in society (Lonsway & Fitzgerald, 1994), meaning that victims are likely to anticipate hostility, dismissal, and blame from myriad authorities, family members,
and peers in response to disclosure. Critically, victims of rape also may hold
the same victim-blaming cultural narratives about victimization or have
internalized the stigmatizing reactions they anticipate from others (see
Finkelson & Oswalt, 1995). As a result, many victims may ultimately blame
themselves for a sexual experience that meets the legal criteria for rape.

4

Journal of Interpersonal Violence 00(0)

Applications of attribution theory to rape disclosure further highlight that
individuals who take ownership for being sexually victimized experience a
host of cognitive–affective sequelae such as feelings of shame and embarrassment, which are commonly reported barriers to disclosure (e.g., Sable,
Danis, Mauzy, & Gallagher, 2006). This aligns with studies demonstrating
the tendency of victims to self-blame, which corresponds to a decreased likelihood of disclosure in both hypothetical scenarios (Orchowski et al., 2009)
and actual cases of rape (Zinzow & Thompson, 2011). These studies overall
characterize nonreporting as a logical decision to avoid negative social reactions when victims feel they are blameworthy for the rape or believe that
others will blame them. This notion is supported by evidence that victims are
much more likely to disclose sexual assaults that conform to the classic rape
script—the circumstances under which victims are typically judged as less
blameworthy. For example, Fisher et al. (2003) found that female victims
were more likely to report an assault to authorities when the incident had
“believable” features (e.g., injury; Wolitzky-Taylor et al., 2011). In contrast,
rapes deviating from the classic rape script have lower rates of disclosure (see
Cohn, Zinzow, Resnick, & Kilpatrick, 2013), as well as associate with internalizing emotional responses (e.g., shame; Fitzgerald & Riley, 2000).
Notably, similar patterns of disclosure emerge for male victims of rape,
who are more likely to disclose an assault when there is evidence that they
could not have successfully defended themselves (Pino & Meier, 1999).
However, myths about male rape suggest that sexual assaults on men do not
happen, reflect a lack of masculinity, or imply latent homosexuality on the
part of the victim (Stermac, Del Bove, & Addison, 2004). Consequently, heterosexual male victims of rape may be seen as the most blameworthy (see
Struckman-Johnson & Struckman-Johnson, 1992), and correspondingly,
these men are perhaps the least likely to disclose having been raped (Isely,
1998)—fearing ridicule and humiliation for being perceived as less masculine or possibly gay (McMullen, 1990). Openly gay men who are victims of
rape also report several barriers to disclosing to authorities and peers that
variously relate to myths such as sexual assault being a normative experience
for gay men (Jackson, Valentine, Woodward, & Pantalone, 2017) or that
experiencing an erection during an assault implies consent (McLean, 2013).
Considered overall, these studies support the existence of various victimblaming rape myths and the notion that individuals use them to guide disclosure decisions (Ryan, 2011). Although a causal relationship has not been
directly established, the low rates of reporting in circumstances that also correspond to higher victim blaming are certainly suggestive of a link. However,
data supporting these propositions are scarce or entirely absent from the
literature.

Seibold-Simpson et al.

5

Victim Blame, Gender, and Sexuality
Research has identified several factors that can affect blame attributions in
sexual assault (e.g., alcohol involvement; Grubb & Turner, 2012). However,
some of the strongest determinants of blame relate to gender and sexuality.
For instance, higher levels of victim blame are associated with male victims,
homosexuality in the case of a male victim, and female perpetrators (for a
review, see Davies & Rogers, 2006). These findings likely reflect how prominently gender and sexuality factor into cultural narratives surrounding rape.
For instance, the notion that men should be able to defend themselves against
rape (Stermac et al., 2004) may contribute to the inference that they should
carry some of the blame for its occurrence, especially when the perpetrator is
a woman. Similarly, a predominant rape myth is that men are perennially
inclined and ready for sex (Clements-Schreiber & Rempel, 1995) unless the
gender of the perpetrator is misaligned with his sexual preferences. This may
account for why gay men are blamed less when the perpetrator is female, as
are heterosexual men who are victimized by other men (Davies, Pollard, &
Archer, 2006).
The gender and sexuality of the individual making these judgments also
significantly affect perceptions of and attributions about rape. Compared
with female or gay male respondents, heterosexual men attribute more blame
to victims of any gender (Davies & McCartney, 2003), are more susceptible
to situational factors that facilitate victim blaming, and more strongly perceive the victim as deriving pleasure from the rape (McCaul, Veltum,
Boyechko, & Crawford, 1990). One explanation for gender differences in
assigning blame is that heterosexual men have been found to adhere more
strongly, on average, to traditional ideologies regarding masculinity
(Anderson & Swainson, 2001), which coincide with rape myths, homophobia, and gender stereotypes—including the notions that men should be physically strong, sexually assertive, and actively heterosexual (Chapleau et al.,
2008; Davies, Gilston, & Rogers, 2012; Suarez & Gadalla, 2010). This constellation of hypermasculine beliefs facilitates victim blaming and fosters
greater sympathy toward perpetrators because male victimization is antithetical to this characterization of manhood (Groth & Burgess, 1980). For individuals endorsing these beliefs, male perpetration and sexual objectification
of women are extensions of the stereotypical masculine and feminine sex role
characteristics of sexual assertiveness and receptivity, respectively. This may
be the case even more so when the perpetrator uses minimal physical force or
the victim does not physically resist, regardless of gender configuration
(Fisher et al., 2000; Kassing & Prieto, 2003). Similarly, perceivers who
endorse traditional gender roles are more likely to blame male rape victims

6

Journal of Interpersonal Violence 00(0)

who did not adhere to male stereotypes (White & Kurpius, 2002). Perhaps
they do so because the male victims are seen to have failed as “real men”
(Doherty & Anderson, 2004).

The Current Study
There is a critical need for research exploring the reasons underlying the low
rates of disclosure for rape on college campuses. Given that the preponderance of rapes is against women, identifying factors that may facilitate disclosure have important implications for the safety and well-being of many
women across campuses nationwide. Though far less common, sexual
assaults committed against men are, proportionally, even less likely to be
reported. Information that can help reduce barriers to reporting among male
victims of sexual assault may open up avenues for recovery currently inaccessible to those suffering in silence.
The present study used a vignette methodology to explore the relationships among attributions of blame, gender, sexual orientation, and male and
female college students’ decisions to disclose sexual assault. We first tested
the premise that gender and sexuality of the victim, which typically associate
with greater victim blaming, would correspond to a lower likelihood of disclosure. Research has identified rape myths that shift third-party attributions
of blame toward victims, particularly for sexual assaults involving gay male
victims and heterosexual male victims of female perpetrators. These factors
heighten third-party victim-blaming attributions and also parallel the circumstances under which victims are less likely to report rape. This pattern of
findings suggests that prevailing rape myths may influence disclosure decisions through increased blame, but this notion has not been evaluated in an
experimental context.
We were also interested in the intersection between participant gender,
sexual orientation, and adherence to gender norms. One explanation why
men may be more disinclined to report being raped pertains to the widespread
myths regarding the rapes of men. That is, both heterosexual and gay men
may be least likely to report being raped because, in accordance with the
above-mentioned rape myths, they are the most likely to be blamed for it.
But, men—in particular heterosexual men—are more likely to blame rape
victims regardless of gender, which may reflect the fact that they are also
more likely to adopt stereotyped masculine ideologies that facilitate blaming
victims. Correspondingly, it is plausible that heterosexual male victims may
be least likely to report being raped, especially to the extent that they adhere
to more traditional masculine gender role ideologies. However, both heterosexual men and woman are likelier to support traditional gender roles than

Seibold-Simpson et al.

7

their sexual minority counterparts (Kachel, Steffens, & Niedlich, 2016),
which may also account for why the latter are more likely than the former to
report various forms of sexual assault (Beaulieu, Dunton, McQuiller
Williams, & Porter, 2017). Currently, there is very little research exploring
whether stronger adherence to these belief systems influence disclosure rates
or whether this may account for why being heterosexual and/or male associates with a decreased likelihood of reporting having been raped.
Finally, we directly evaluated the effects of blame attributions on the likelihood of disclosure. The preponderance of research in this area focuses on victim blame, and there is evidence that self-blame for a sexual assault correlates
uniquely with nondisclosure (Zinzow & Thompson, 2011). However, less is
known about how ascriptions of blame toward the perpetrator also influence
disclosure decisions. It is conceivable that the extent of perpetrator blame may
be equally important, as, for example, it may be the more actionable criterion
for police and legal proceedings. In addition, we tested whether ascriptions of
blame served as the intermediary influence between vignette and person-level
characteristics and the likelihood of reporting or discussing the rape. These
analyses will not only indicate the extent to which attributions of blame matter
with respect to disclosure but also whether other factors tied to decreased
reporting (e.g., victim gender) carry their influence by way of increased blame.
We presently tested the following specific hypotheses:
•• Regardless of participant gender and sexual orientation, participants
would attribute more blame to the victim and thus be less likely to
report rape in situations when the victim was male and/or when the
perpetrator was female.
•• Male gender and heterosexual orientation would associate with greater
blame placed on victims versus perpetrators and a correspondingly lower
likelihood of disclosure or reporting across conditions. We also evaluated
whether or not gender and sexual orientation interact, with heterosexual
males being assumed to most favor the perpetrator over the victim and be
least likely to disclose or report rape if in the victim’s position.
•• Stronger endorsement of masculine gender ideologies would predict
higher levels of victim blame, lower levels of perpetrator blame, and
lower rates of disclosure/reporting, and that the anticipated effects of
gender and sexuality would be at least partially accounted for by
greater adherence to traditional masculine ideals.
•• Respectively higher and lower levels of victim and perpetrator blame
would predict lower likelihoods of disclosure/reporting, with blame
attributions mediating the association between vignette characteristics
and personal attributes and the likelihood of disclosure.

8

Journal of Interpersonal Violence 00(0)

Method
Participants
Undergraduates (N = 969) were recruited from a state university in the northeast United States. Using email and listserv announcements, we targeted
psychology, nursing, management, human development, and anthropology
courses, as well as from the School of Engineering. We collected basic demographics, including gender, race/ethnicity, relationship status, sexual orientation, year in college, Greek affiliation, and number of sexual partners in the
past 12 months. We excluded from the analyses cases that did provide sufficient information on at least one critical variable. The final sample (N = 916)
was predominantly female (n = 595, 65.0%), single (n = 517, 56.4%), and
Caucasian (n = 602, 65.7%), with the remaining sample identifying as Asian/
Pacific Islander (n = 136, 14.8%), Latino/a (n = 93, 10.2%), African American
(n = 37, 4.0%), Afro-Caribbean (n = 16, 1.7%), or mixed race/other (n = 28,
3.1%). Four individuals (<1%) did not report their race/ethnicity. Most individuals identified as Catholic (n = 395, 43.1%), followed by atheist (n = 182,
19.9%), Jewish (n = 144, 15.7%), Protestant (n = 122, 13.3%), “other” (n = 38,
4.1%), Buddhist (n = 15, 1.6%), Muslim (n = 12, 1.3%), and Taoist (n = 1,
0.1%), with seven individuals (0.8%) not reporting their religious affiliation.
The sample comprised mostly Freshman (n = 337, 36.8%) and Sophomores
(n = 307, 33.5%), with the remaining sample being approximately split
between Juniors (n = 128, 14.0%) and Seniors (n = 144, 15.7%). There were
154 (16.8%) individuals reporting a Greek affiliation.

Measures
Sexual orientation. We modeled sexual orientation as a continuous variable.
Specifically, we asked participants to rate the extent that their “sexual contacts
and partners” were of the same or other sex, which they rated on a Likert-type
scale with anchors ranging from 0 (other sex only; n = 821, 89.6%) to 6 (same
sex only; n = 16, 1.7%) with a midpoint of 4 (“Both sexes”; n = 22, 2.4%). The
mean item response was 0.30 (SD = 1.09). There was significant kurtosis, but
a square root transformation successfully normalized the variable.
Victim and perpetrator blame. Victim blame was measured using a scale
developed by Trangsrud (2010), based on previous scales that had shown
internal reliability ranging from adequate to excellent (e.g., LanghinrichsenRohling & Monson, 1998). Eight items were measured on a 7-point Likerttype scale with responses ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly
agree). Responses were averaged, with higher scores indicating greater

Seibold-Simpson et al.

9

victim blaming. Sample items included [the victim] had control over the
events that occurred in the described scenario and [the victim] was most
responsible for the event that occurred at the end of the scenario. The scale
average for men and women was 2.47 (SD = 1.19) and 2.02 (SD = 1.11),
respectively, with coefficient alpha being .91 and .93 for men and women,
respectively. Perpetrator blame was a summated scale comprising nine items
mirroring the victim blame scale and that used the same Likert-type rating
scale used to measure victim blame. A higher average score on the scale indicated greater perpetrator blaming, with sample means of 5.96 (SD = 1.07) and
6.21 (SD =.99) for men and women, respectively, with the scales being reliable for both men (α = .90) and women (α = .91). Perpetrator and victim
blame were correlated at r = .57, p < .001.
Rape disclosure. Following the vignette, participants read the item stem [i]f
you were [victim] how likely would you be to discuss this event with . . . ,
which was tied to the following options: “your best friend,” “your parent,”
“your health care provider,” “the campus health services,” “the campus counseling services,” and “the emergency room.” Each option was evaluated separately using a 6-point Likert-type scale, with higher scores indicating a
greater likelihood of discussing the rape. The same format was used to measure likelihood of reporting the rape to authorities, with the item stem targeting the likelihood of filing a report to each of the following: “University
ombudsman?”, “Dean of Students office?”, “University police?”, and “other
local law enforcement?”. These response options were developed in accordance with online materials at the University regarding Title IX and sexual
assault guidelines. For men, the sample average score was 3.85 (SD = 1.42)
and 3.56 (SD = 1.82) for disclosing and reporting, α = .79 and .89, respectively, whereas women’s sample averages were 4.11 (SD = 1.42) and 3.72
(SD = 1.87), α = .81 and .91, respectively.
Masculinity ideology. We measured adherence to stereotyped masculine ideals
through the Male Role Attitudes Scale (MRAS; Pleck, Sonenstein, & Ku,
1993) and the Adolescent Masculinity Ideology in Relationships Scale
(AMIRS; Chu, Porche, & Tolman, 2005). The MRAS consisted of eight
items to assess status (e.g., It is essential for a guy to get respect from others),
toughness (e.g., A young man should be physically tough, even if he’s not
big), and anti-femininity (e.g., It bothers me when a guy acts like a girl) using
a 4-point Likert-type scale response (1 = strongly disagree, 4 = strongly
agree). In young male samples, the MRAS has been positively associated
with risky sexual behavior, adversarial beliefs about heterosexual relationships, violence, and substance use (Pleck et al., 1993; Santana, Raj, Decker,
La Marche, & Silverman, 2006).

10

Journal of Interpersonal Violence 00(0)

The AMIRS consisted of 12 items with a 6-point Likert-type scale response
(1 = strongly disagree, 6 = strongly agree), with similar content reflecting
toughness (e.g., I can respect a guy who backs down from a fight), emotional
invulnerability (e.g., It’s important for a guy to act like nothing is wrong, even
when something is bothering him), and heterosexual dominance (e.g., In a
good dating relationship, the guy gets his way most of the time). Items were
reverse-scored, where appropriate, so that higher scores represent stronger
alignment with hegemonic masculinity beliefs. The AMIRS expands upon
the MRAS by examining internalization of masculine ideology more specifically in the context of interpersonal relationships (Chu et al., 2005). The two
measures are further distinguished by the MRAS’s focus on maintaining true
privilege and power in relationships, compared with the AMIRS’s focus on
projecting a convincing semblance of this status. Responses to items on each
scale were averaged, with sample averages for the MRAS and AMIRS being
2.37 (SD = .51) and 2.44 (SD = .79) for men and 2.11 (SD = .45) and 1.73 (SD
= .58) for women, with men to a significant extent endorsing items more
strongly than women on both scales, t(914) = 7.93 and t(914) = 15.63, respectively, p < .001. Coefficient alpha was .77 and .73 for men and women on the
MRAS and .85 and .78 on the AMIRS.

Procedures
Data were collected through an anonymous online survey utilizing Qualtrics
(Qualtrics.com). Participants were randomly assigned to one of three vignette
scenarios developed by Trangsrud (2010) describing a typical hookup
encounter. The vignettes used in the study were modified by the removal of
alcohol use and by varying the gender of the perpetrator and victim, yielding
three conditions: (a) male perpetrator/female victim, (b) male perpetrator/
male victim, and (c) female perpetrator/male victim. The reporting and disclosure outcome measures were administered following the vignette assigned
to each condition. An example of the vignettes used is as follows:
Bill and Mary attended a party that a mutual acquaintance threw on Friday
night. They did not know each other previously, but met that night at the party
and visited throughout the evening. Besides, he thought she was quite attractive,
especially in the sexy outfit she had worn to the party, so he offered to drive
Mary home. Mary accepted Bill’s offer to drive her home. When they got to
Mary’s apartment building, Bill walked Mary up to her apartment and gave her
a kiss goodnight. Mary invited Bill into her apartment “to watch a movie.” Bill
accepted, so Mary put in a movie for them to watch. Neither of them was
actually watching the movie; instead they were kissing, touching, and stroking
each other. They undressed each other and continued making out. Mary told

Seibold-Simpson et al.

11

Bill she did not want to have intercourse but was enjoying making out with
him. Later Mary felt Bill’s penis penetrate her vagina. She told him to stop, but
he did not.

We used a “strong” rape situation to rule out the possibility that participants’ likelihood ratings for disclosure and reporting could reflect a lack of
acknowledgement that the situation represented rape. As a manipulation
check, participants were asked whether or not the described scenario was a
sexual assault using the following response options: (1) strongly disagree, (2)
disagree, (3) somewhat disagree, (4) neither agree nor disagree, (5) somewhat agree, (6) agree, and (7) strongly agree. Collapsed across conditions,
90.56% of the sample (n = 825) endorsed some level of agreement, 5.26% (n
= 48) said neither agree nor disagree, whereas only 4.28% (n = 39) endorsed
some form of disagreement. Notably, whereas the frequency of endorsement
for each response category did not differ across the male-on-female and
male-on-male conditions, χ2(6) = 3.59, p =.73, the response frequencies in
female-on-male condition were significantly different from the male-onfemale scenario, χ2(6) = 30.6, p < .001, and male-on-male scenario, χ2(6) =
17.5, p = .008. Visual inspection of cell frequencies suggested a shift toward
less strong agreement that the female-on-male condition constituted rape
(e.g., 23.36% [n = 214] endorsing strongly agree in the male-on-male condition vs. 17.47% [n = 160] in the female-on-male scenario).
Participants then completed the other survey measures. Bohner et al.
(1998) found that assessing rape-related attitudes affected participants’ subsequent ratings of rape proclivity. Therefore, to limit the potential effects of
both fatigue and prior assessment of masculine ideology on blame and disclosure attributions, the questionnaires were presented after the vignettes.
Participants gave informed consent at the beginning of the survey and were
debriefed at its conclusion. The study received institutional review board
approval from the University.

Planned Analyses
Using the SPSS.22 MIXED syntax, we developed a model wherein the items
assessing victim blame, perpetrator blame, likelihood of disclosure, and likelihood of reporting were treated as separate outcomes repeated within individuals. Each outcome was provided its own intercept, so the effects of each
variable on each outcome could be evaluated separately. Our baseline (i.e.,
empty) model provided initial estimates for the −2Log Likelihood (−2LL)
information criterion, which allowed us to test improvements in fit at each
step of the model using a −2LL difference test.

12

Journal of Interpersonal Violence 00(0)

We first examined potential control variables including year in school,
Greek affiliation, and number of sexual partners in the past 12 months. The
effects of condition were estimated next, alongside individual-level predictors of gender and sexual orientation. A dummy coding scheme was used to
code for male-on-male and female-on-male rape (1 identifying those in that
condition, otherwise 0). For gender, male versus female was coded as 0 and
1, respectively, and the sexual orientation measure was scaled so that heterosexual equaled 0. Under this scheme, the intercept parameters represent the
expected value of each outcome for the male-on-female vignette, as rated by
heterosexual male participants. Regression weights for the other vignette
conditions indicate the expected mean difference between male-on-male and
female-on-male vignettes relative to male-on-female reference condition.
The estimate for gender reflects the expected change in ratings for each outcome for participants who are female, whereas increases in sexual orientation
represent the effects of increased deviations from strictly heterosexual. We
subsequently entered in the product term of gender and sexuality to evaluate
the hypothesized interaction effect. We then added the MRAS and AMIRS
scales to test the influence of stereotyped gender identification, as well as
whether stronger ascription to these beliefs accounted for the hypothesized
effects of gender, sexual orientation, or their interaction. Finally, we explored
the unique effects of victim and perpetrator blame on disclosure, evaluating
whether or not ascriptions of blame mediated the effects of the incident- and
person-level variables using PRODCLIN (MacKinnon, Fritz, Williams, &
Lockwood, 2007), which tests significance using confidence intervals (CIs)
that account for the asymmetric sampling distribution around product terms.

Results
We first estimated a model sans predictors, which provided values for the
initial variance–covariance matrix. We found that the best fit to the error
structure was an unstructured matrix, wherein each variance and covariance
element has a separate estimate. As a set, the control predictors significantly
improved model fit, χ2(12) = 45.37, p < .001, with greater seniority predicting increased victim blame, b = .10 (.04), 95% CI: [.03, .17], p = .004, and
Greek affiliation predicting a decreased likelihood of reporting to authorities,
b = –.35 (.16), 95% CI: [ –.67, –.02], p = .035.

Does Gender and Sexuality of the Perpetrator, Victim, and
Observer Matter?
We predicted that vignettes with male victims would elicit higher victim
blame, lower perpetrator blame, and decreased likelihood of disclosing and

Seibold-Simpson et al.

13

reporting the assault when controlling for gender and sexual orientation of the
participant. Compared with other participants, we predicted that those who are
heterosexual and male would assign higher levels of victim blame and lower
levels of perpetrator blame, as well as correspondingly lower likelihoods of
disclosure or reporting. The analysis provided partial support for our hypotheses, with parameter estimates displayed in Table 1 (Model A). Specifically,
we found that participants in the female-on-male condition blamed the victim
more, perpetrator less, and were less likely to report or disclose rape relative
to participants in the male-on-female vignettes. Also in line with our hypotheses, both female gender and nonheterosexual orientation uniquely predicted
decreases in both victim blame and increases in perpetrator blame, as well as
associated with a higher likelihood of discussing the event with those in their
social network or health resources. The hypothesized interaction effect for
gender and sexual orientation was not significant for any of the outcomes, suggesting that while being heterosexual and male may contribute to relatively
lower levels of reporting, these influences are additive rather than multiplicative. We removed the interaction term from subsequent models but retained its
constituent variables as separate predictors. As a set, these predictors significantly improved model fit, χ2(16) = 122.25, p < .001.

Does Masculine Gender Ideology Predict Blame or Disclosure?
We hypothesized that stereotypic masculine gender identification would predict greater victim blame, less perpetrator blame, and a decreased likelihood
of disclosure. We also predicted that ascription to these beliefs would at least
partially account for the effects of gender and sexuality found previously. As
shown in Table 1 (Model B), the MRAS associated significantly with victim
blame, whereas the AMIRS did so for perpetrator blame. Higher MRAS
scores associated with a decreased likelihood of discussing the event with
social ties/health resources and reporting the event to authorities. Addition of
these variables accounted for the previously significant effects of gender and
sexual orientation across outcomes, but created a significant suppressor effect
for gender in predicting perpetrator blame. That is, women were now less
likely to blame the perpetrator once accounting for adherence to traditional
masculine gender roles. As a set, these variables significantly improved the
model, χ2(8) = 263.43, p < .001.

The Direct and Mediating Influences of Victim and Perpetrator
Blame on Disclosure
Finally, we evaluated whether attributions of blame uniquely predicted disclosure and reporting decisions, as well as whether these variables served as

14

[.03, .16]
[–.19, .19]
[–.08, .06]
[–.59, –.29]
[–.39, –.11]
[–.18, .18]
[.07, .42]

[.04, .17]
[–.29, .08]
[–.11, .02]
[–.18, .13]
[–.24, .02]
[–.13, .20]
[.08, .41]
[.29, .62]
[.31, .54]

.09 (.03)**
.00 (.10)
−.01 (.04)
−.45 (.08)**
−.25 (.07)**
.00 (.09)
.24 (.09)**

.10 (.03)**
−.10 (.09)
−.04 (.03)
−.03 (.08)
−.11 (.07)
.03 (.08)
.24 (.08)**
.46 (.08)**
.43 (.06)**

95% CI

−.00 (.03)
.01 (.08)
−.02 (.03)
−.23 (.07)**
.11 (.06)
−.06 (.07)
−.23 (.07)**
.02 (.07)**
−.68 (.05)**

.01 (.03)
−.03 (.09)
−.04 (.03)
.25 (.07)**
.22 (.06)**
−.05 (.08)
−.25 (.08)**

b (SE)

[–.06, –.05]
[–.15, .17]
[–.08, .03]
[–.37, –.09]
[–.00, .23]
[–.21, .08]
[–.38, –.09]
[–.13, .16]
[–.78, –.57]

[–.05, .07]
[–.20, .15]
[–.11, .02]
[.11, .39]
[.09, .35]
[–.21, .11]
[–.41, –.09]

95% CI

Perpetrator Blame

.01 (.04)
−.15 (.13)
.08 (.04)*
.10 (.11)
.15 (.09)
−.17 (.11)
−.50 (.11)**
−.34 (.11)**
−.13 (.08)

.01 (.04)
−.22 (.13)
.06 (.05)
.28 (.10)**
.23 (.09)**
−.16 (.11)
−.50 (.11)**

b (SE)

[–.08, .09]
[–.40, .09]
[–.01, .17]
[–.11, .31]
[–.03, .33]
[–.39, .05]
[–.72, –.28]
[–.56, –.11]
[–.29, .02]

[–.07, .10]
[–.47, .02]
[–.03, .15]
[.09, .47]
[.05, .40]
[–.38, .07]
[–.72, –.28]

95% CI

Disclosure

−.09 (.06)
−.27 (.16)
−.02 (.06)
−.10 (.14)
−.03 (.12)
−.02 (.14)
−.89 (.14)**
−.39 (.15)**
−.19 (.10)**

−.08 (.06)
−.35 (.16)
−.04 (.06)
.14 (.13)
.06 (.11)
.00 (.14)
−.89 (.14)

b (SE)

95% CI

[–.20, .02]
[–.58, .05]
[–.13, .10]
[–.37, .18]
[–.26, .19]
[–.30, .26]
[–1.17, –.61]
[–.67, –.10]
[–.39, .01]

[–.19, .03]
[–.66, –.03]
[–.15, .08]
[–.11, .38]
[–.16, .29]
[–.29, .29]
[–1.17, –.60]

Reporting

Note. N = 916. Sexual partners refers to the total number in the past 12 months. AMIRS = Adolescent Masculinity Ideology in Relationships Scale; MRAS = Male Role
Attitude Scale; MoM = male-on-male; FoM = female-on-male.
*p < .05. **p < .01.

Model A
Year
Greek affiliation
Sexual partners
Female gender
Sexual orientation
MoM rape
FoM rape
Model B
Year
Greek affiliation
Sexual partners
Female gender
Sexual orientation
MoM assault
FoM assault
MRAS
AMIRS

b (SE)

Victim Blame

Table 1. Parameter Estimates for Study Variables Predicting Victim and Perpetrator Blame and Disclosure to Social Ties/Health
Resources and Reporting to Authorities.

Seibold-Simpson et al.

15

the intermediary link between these outcomes and the female-on-male rape
condition, the MRAS, and the AMIRS. The results supported our hypothesis, but only with respect to perpetrator blame. Specifically, attributions of
blame to the victim did not uniquely correspond to the likelihood of disclosure, b = .05 (.05), 95% CI: [–.05, .15], p = .32, or reporting, b = –.10 (.06),
95% CI: [–.23, .02], p = .11. In contrast, as perpetrator blame increased,
there was a significant increase in the likelihood that participants would
disclose the assault to social ties/health resources, b = .17 (.06), 95% CI:
[.06, .28], p = .003, and report to authorities, b = .17 (.07), 95% CI: [.02,
.31], p = .023. Moreover, we found small but significant mediated effects of
the female-on-male rape condition through perpetrator blame for disclosure,
b = –.04 (.02), 95% CI: [–.08, –.01], and reporting, b = –.04 (.02), 95% CI:
[–.09, –.004]. However, the effects of female perpetration on outcomes
remained significant for both disclosure to social ties, b = –.48 (.11), 95%
CI: [–.69, –.26], and reporting to authorities, b = –.83 (.14), 95% CI: [–1.09,
–.55], ps < .001, indicating only partial indirect effects through perpetrator
blame for both outcomes. Increased perpetrator blame also mediated the
AMIRS impact on disclosure, b = –.12 (.04), 95% CI: [–.20, –.04], and
reporting, b = –.11 (.05), 95% CI: [–.21, –.02], although the AMIRS had no
significant direct effects on either outcomes (see Table 1). As the MRAS
only associated significantly with victim blame, mediation through perpetrator blame was not tested. These results together suggest that female-perpetrated rape and stronger adherence to male role ideologies associated with
decreased likelihoods of disclosure and reporting, in part, by decreasing the
amount of blame attributed to the perpetrator.

Discussion
Our current aim was to disentangle the effects of observer- and assault-level
variables on rape disclosure with a focus on gender and sexuality and evaluate whether any observed effects were mediated by blame attributions.
Consistent with expectations, our findings indicate that (a) women and those
more strongly identifying as nonheterosexual assigned less blame to the victim and more blame to the perpetrator and were more likely to disclose the
rape regardless of perpetrator and victim gender; (b) regardless of observer
gender, assault vignettes with a female perpetrator and male victim elicited
more victim blame, less perpetrator blame, and less likelihood of reporting or
disclosing the assault, compared with male-on-female assault vignettes; (c)
greater ascription to male gender role ideology predicted blame attributions
and likelihood of disclosure and (d) accounted for nearly all of our gender
and sexual orientation effects; and (e) greater perpetrator blame predicted

16

Journal of Interpersonal Violence 00(0)

unique variance in both disclosure to social contacts/health resources and
authorities, which (f) carried part of the effects of the female-to-male violence scenarios and also linked higher endorsement of traditional male role
ideology to disclosure.
Several of our results help unpack the effects of gender and sexuality on
decisions to disclose or report rape. Consistent with prior studies (e.g.,
Banyard et al., 2007), men were less likely than women to endorse that they
would disclose being sexually assaulted. However, we found this effect to be
consistent across conditions, even when men imagined themselves in the role
of female victim to a male perpetrator, suggesting that men do not report less
simply because male victimization is more stigmatized (Graham, 2006).
Similarly, we found that those identifying with a heterosexual only orientation were less inclined to disclose or report, regardless of gender, indicating
that sexual minorities may report victimization at higher rates not solely
because there is a disproportionately higher frequency of sexual assault in
this population (Rothman, Exner, & Baughman, 2011). Rather, our findings
suggest that those endorsing a nonheterosexual orientation may be less likely
to hold views that impede disclosure and reporting, such as more traditional
gender roles or one of its correlates that also links to blame attributions and
disclosure decisions (e.g., homophobia; Anderson, 2004). This appeared to
be the case presently, as the effects of both gender and sexual orientation
were driven largely by relatively stronger adherence to traditional masculine
norms by men and heterosexual participants. Traditional masculine norms
often serve to decrease blame accorded to perpetrators, which aligns with our
mediation effects for the AMIRS on both disclosure to social ties/health
resources and reporting to authorities. However, the MRAS has direct effects
on decreasing the reported likelihood of disclosure for both outlets, which
may be by way of negative attitudes toward help-seeking (Berger, Levant,
McMillan, Kelleher, & Sellers, 2005) and/or emphasis on male independence
and emotional fortitude (Addis & Mahalik, 2003). It is also notable the
MRAS and AMIRS affected outcomes by alternate routes, altogether suggesting that different elements of traditional masculinity may link to rape
disclosure and reporting for different reasons. In any case, for victims of
sexual assault, stronger adherence to traditional male role ideologies appears
to be a barrier to utilizing support from their social networks, accessing medical and psychological services, initiating campus disciplinary procedures that
could reduce contact between victim and assailant, and bringing assailants to
face legal consequences.
Our results also suggest that female-on-male rape may be underreported
not simply because men are less likely to report or disclose a sexual assault.
Rather, participants in general were less likely to disclose or report male

Seibold-Simpson et al.

17

victimization by a female perpetrator, even after accounting for individual
differences in gender, sexuality, and adherence to traditional male role ideologies. This may reflect that participants in this sample generally held negative attitudes toward male victims of female-perpetrated rape or recognized
that such disclosures are often met with hostility by third parties (Walker,
Archer, & Davies, 2005), who may further lack the requisite training and
experience to respond appropriately (Javaid, 2016). It is also possible that
participants viewed the consequences of rape as being less for men and,
therefore, less worthy of report. However, female-on-male assault influenced
disclosure and reporting decisions partially by way of decreased blame
toward the female perpetrator. This may be because female perpetration is
incompatible with scripts regarding rape, as gender stereotypes often characterize women as having low sexual libidos, being gatekeepers (rather than
instigators) for sex, and desiring sex primarily for emotional intimacy
(Sakaluk, Todd, Milhausen, Lachowsky, & Undergraduate Research Group
in Sexuality, 2014). In any case, these findings overall suggest that male victims of sexual assault likely face additional hurdles to disclosing or reporting
when the rape was perpetrated by a woman.
We also found the extent to which individuals perceived the perpetrator
as having some unique causal role played into decisions to disclose or
report, which contrasts arguments that victim and perpetrator blame are
interchangeable judgments (Pollard, 1992). Irrespective of how much participants blamed the victim, decreased perpetrator blame tied to lower likelihoods of disclosure and reporting. This is consistent with the finding that
people rationalize or excuse sexual assault perpetration (Coates & Wade,
2004), but further demonstrates that this may somehow factor into an individual’s accounting of whether or not they would be likely to report.
Specifically, individuals may take some ownership for being raped but may
be likelier to report if they believe that the perpetrator owns some greater
share of the overall blame.
These findings should be considered in light of the participants’ general
consensus that the scenarios in the vignettes constituted rape. This suggests
that their stated likelihoods of disclosure had less to do with a lack of
acknowledgement (Cohn et al., 2013) and pertained more to either their own
beliefs about rape or assumptions that they held about the perspectives of
relevant others. Within that frame, it is notable that the sample means for our
disclosure and reporting measures hovered toward the scale’s midpoint,
implying some degree of uncertainty or ambivalence surrounding the decision to report, even when the individual has correctly identified the experience as a rape. Our findings also support the notion that disclosure decisions
have myriad inputs (Orchowski & Gidycz, 2012), which range in effect size

18

Journal of Interpersonal Violence 00(0)

but nonetheless may accumulate and shift this tenuous decisional balance in
one or the other direction. Therein, even relatively small influences may
account for a substantial number of underreported rapes when played out
over large populations of college students.
Several methodological aspects of our study require further discussion.
First, the use of hypothetical scenarios allowed us to experimentally parse out
the effects of variables that are naturally intertwined, but may not effectively
mirror the processes inherent to the situations in the real world. However, this
criticism should be tempered by the correspondence between findings derived
from vignette methods (e.g., Doherty & Anderson, 2004) and those using
other operations that converge on the same pattern of results (e.g., Pino &
Meier, 1999). Second, we did not vary homosexual orientation of the victim
in the male-on-male vignette. Male-perpetrated sexual assaults on heterosexual and gay male victims tend to have different topographies that influence reporting (Hodge & Canter, 1998), and orientation of the victim is
shown to modulate judgments. However, these effects appear to depend on
certain situational factors (e.g., victim resistance; Davies, Rogers, & Bates,
2008), suggesting more research is needed to understand the impact of sexuality on attributions of blame in the rapes of men. Third, we did not include a
condition wherein both the perpetrator and victim were women. This was in
part because we used penetration as a clear indicator of rape and there was no
analogous element for a female-on-female scenario that would not substantively alter the vignette (e.g., digital penetration), which would preclude a
clear comparison with the other conditions. Though scant, evidence suggests
that female-on-female rapes do occur (Tjaden, Thoennes, & Allison, 1999),
and evaluating how pertinent myths (e.g., women are not violent; see
Hassouneh & Glass, 2008) influence attributions of blame and decisions to
disclose or report rapes in these situations will likely prove an informative
and important topic for future research. Fifth, we used a so-called “strong
situation,” which tends to attenuate differences in attitudes across participants and can correspondingly shrink the size of any observed effects. As
such, our current design may have underestimated the influence of these variables under more ambiguous circumstances, but nevertheless provided a
more stringent test of our current hypotheses (for similar arguments, see
Mitchell, Angelone, Kohlberger, & Hirschman, 2009). Finally, though relatively diverse, we used a sample from a single university, so caution is advised
when generalizing these findings to other collegiate settings or to the many
other populations wherein the incidence of rape is unacceptably high and the
extant pressures for victims to remain silent may vary.
Considered overall, our study identified specific barriers preventing disclosing and reporting sexual victimization, which in turn sheds light on

Seibold-Simpson et al.

19

potential targets for sexual assault prevention programs and victim interventions. Federal guidelines and sexual assault researchers already recommend
institution-level policies that are easily accessible, centered on victim needs,
and clearly written (Graham et al., 2017; McMahon, Wood, Cusano, & Macri,
2018), but our findings reinforce the idea that such policies should not inadvertently lay blame on particular victims or imply that certain types of perpetrators are more likely to be exonerated. More specifically, including
definitions of sexual violence that go beyond male-against-female penile–
vaginal penetration may reassure other types of victims that their unwanted
sexual experiences are serious and worthy of disclosing. It is also notable
that, presently, factors shown to transfer blame from perpetrators to victims
were only partially mediated by how the participants themselves apportioned
responsibility, suggesting that students also weighted in their decision making how other people would likely respond to a reported rape. Thus, disclosure rates may be improved through increased clarity regarding the process
and potential outcomes of sexual assault adjudication, which is a factor that
significantly contributes to victim satisfaction with the justice system in community samples (Amar, Strout, Simpson, Cardiello, & Beckford, 2014;
Laxminarayan, Bosmans, Porter, & Sosa, 2013). It also provides reassurance
to victims that their university complies with federal guidelines to avoid
questions that might be used to blame victims or exonerate perpetrators (e.g.,
what the victim was wearing) during the adjudication process (White House
Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, 2017). It is also worth
discussing that attitudes that depress reporting are embedded and reinforced
within universities and the larger context of society. Factors such as individuals’ perception of peer norms regarding blame attributions and sexual aggression perpetration are an important part of the larger ecological systems
wherein campus sexual assault is unfortunately so prevalent (Banyard, 2013;
McMahon et al., 2018; Moylan & Javorka, 2018). In line with other researchers calling for intervention efforts aimed at broader environmental level
change (Casey & Lindhorst, 2009), we believe that efforts targeting faculty,
peers, parents, and the community are likely to have better outcomes than
interventions focusing on only one of these groups. Interventions targeting
students before they begin college may be an important facet of sexual assault
prevention.
Our study also highlights the particular importance of addressing gender
role ideology both independently and alongside blame attributions in assault
scenarios. Rigid adherence to traditional male role ideology has long been
identified as a predictor of destructive behaviors, including perpetration of
physical assault, sexual assault, and relationship violence (Hong, 2000;
Kimmel & Mahler, 2003; Moore & Stuart, 2005; Santana et al., 2006);

20

Journal of Interpersonal Violence 00(0)

however, our study further suggests a relation between these ideologies and
maladaptive attributional and behavioral responses following sexual victimization. Traditional male role ideology thus appears harmful not only to those
individuals who are more likely to be victimized at the hands of those who
endorse it but also when those who endorse it are themselves victimized.
Unfortunately, interventions directly targeting traditional gender roles face
many challenges. Although gender role attitudes and blame attributions have
previously been a target of sexual assault prevention programs, these efforts
have had limited results (Gray, Hassija, & Steinmetz, 2016). Moreover, interventions aimed at reducing gendered violence with an explicitly feminist
agenda can be derailed by participants’ adherence to hegemonic male gender
roles and facilitators’ deference to such ideologies (Schrock & Padavic,
2007). Nevertheless, the importance of confronting masculine role ideology
in sexual assault prevention curricula should be emphasized across the board,
as these beliefs also have been linked to lower willingness to intervene in
bystander emergency situations (Tice & Baumeister, 1985). These findings
altogether suggest that attempts to prevent sexual assault or ameliorate its
negative sequelae will be of limited efficacy to the extent that hypermasculine beliefs continue to be inadequately addressed. However, future research
is needed to ascertain which forms of intervention may be most effective in
evolving these ideologies in ways that attenuate their association with sexual
violence perpetration and disclosure.
Acknowledgments
A special thanks to undergraduate research assistants in Binghamton University’s Sex
Lab.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Funding
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

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Author Biographies
Susan M. Seibold-Simpson completed her BS, major in Nursing and MS, and major
in Family Nursing at Binghamton University/SUNY. She received her MPH from the
University at Albany/SUNY and her PhD in Heath Services Research at the University
of Rochester. She is the Chair of Nursing at SUNY Broome Community College and
works part-time as a Nurse Practitioner in reproductive health.
Allison M. McKinnon, MS, is a graduate student in the clinical psychology doctoral
program at Binghamton University. Her research interests include intimate partner
violence, communication and perception of sexual consent, and intimate relationships
in emerging adulthood.
Richard E. Mattson, PhD, is an associate professor at Binghamton University within
the Department of Psychology. His current research interests include examining attitudes towards physical and sexual aggression using vignette-based methodologies
and exploring the causes and consequences of functional versus dysfunctional communication, including social support and intimate partner violence, respectively, in
intimate relationships.

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Edwin Ortiz, MS, is a doctoral student in clinical psychology at Binghamton
University. His research examines risk factors for intimate partner violence as well as
perceptions of victims and perpetrators.
Ann M. Merriwether, PhD, is a lecturer in psychology and human development at
Binghamton University, SUNY. She received her doctorate from Pennsylvania State
University in the area of developmental psychology. Her research focuses on the
development of reproductive health attitudes and sexual socialization.
Sean G. Massey, PhD, is an associate professor of Women, Gender, & Sexuality
Studies at Binghamton University, SUNY. His research focuses on the psychological
study of sexuality and gender, anti-homosexual prejudice, as well as the relationship
between social science and social change.
Ian Chiu, RN, graduated from Binghamton University with a B.S. in Integrative
Neuroscience and Nursing. He is currently enrolled at Columbia University School of
Nursing in the Doctoral of Nursing Practice, specializing as a Family Nurse Practitioner.