Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. David J. Hartmann

Second Advisor

Dr. Paula S. Brush

Third Advisor

Dr. Rachel B. Whaley

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Joetta L Carr


The most widely known national study of rape found that one in four college-age women has been the victim of rape or attempted rape. Conservative writers have criticized that study for overestimating the possible prevalence of rape in the U.S. My research uses more sensitive instruments and administration techniques, seeking to estimate the prevalence of rape in the lives of women at a large midwestern public university. I address questions about the validity of previous rape research and compare methods of collecting sexual violence information by questionnaire (322 mailed surveys and 300 interviewer-administered surveys). Additional interviews with 62 of the participants using nine sexually explicit vignettes explore the meanings that women place on sexual violence terminology used in rape research. I find a significantly higher prevalence of rape than earlier research indicates, and similar prevalence rates of attempted rape and other forms of sexual violence. There is no significant difference in the prevalence of completed rape when mailed survey findings are compared to personal interviews; however, interviews yield significantly more reports of attempted rape, especially incidents in which the victim is voluntarily relatively high degrees of definitional clarity and consensus; however, when asked to assess concrete examples, these levels of clarity and consensus diminish dramatically. I discuss the implications of these findings for policy development, future research, and for our understanding of rape and its impact on our selves, our relationships, and our society.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access