Sex Roles [sers] PP978-sers-472555 September 12, 2003 15:16 Style ﬁle version June 3rd, 2002
Sex Roles, Vol. 49, Nos. 9/10, November 2003 (
Rape and Seduction Scripts of University Students:
Implications for Rape Attributions
and Unacknowledged Rape
Heather L. Littleton
and Danny Axsom
Research suggests that sexual scripts play a key role in how people understand and enact
sexual interactions. For example, forced sexual activity may not be labeled as rape because
it does not ﬁt with individuals’ rape script and instead ﬁts better with another sexual script.
The current studies concern one such sexual script, seduction, which may partially overlap
with individuals’ rape script, leading to ambiguity regarding how to label certain incidents
of forced sex. Two studies were conducted to determine the elements of university students’
rape and seduction scripts. In the ﬁrst study, 50 students described one of these two scripts in
response to an open-ended query. In the second study, students (n = 130) rated how typical
they believed a number of potential script elements were of rape or seduction. Results from
both studies indicate differences as well as overlap between the two scripts. In particular, both
scripts tended to involve the use of manipulative tactics on the part of the man to obtain sex.
Implications of the results for understanding the rape attribution process and unacknowledged
rape are discussed.
KEY WORDS: rape; attributions; rape acknowledgment; scripts.
It is theorized that sexual scripts may play an
important role in how individuals conceptualize and
enact sexual behavior. In the present studies we in-
vestigated how such scripts could play a role in how
incidents of rape are conceptualized. Both the rape
attribution and sexual assault literature suggest that
many incidents of unwanted, forced sex are not seen
as rape. This may occur, in part, because these assaults
do not ﬁt with individuals’ rape script and instead ﬁt
better with another, overlapping script.
A script is a type of schema, which is a cognitive
structure that represents organized knowledge about
a given domain (Schank & Abelson, 1977). Specif-
ically, a script is a schema for a particular type of
event, such as eating a meal at a restaurant or go-
Department of Psychology, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and
State University, Blacksburg, Virginia.
To whom correspondence should be addressed at Department of
Psychology, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University,
Blacksburg, Virginia 24061-0436; e-mail: email@example.com.
ing out on a ﬁrst date. Scripts contain information
about props, roles, and rules regarding the sequence
of events (Fiske & Taylor, 1991). They often oper-
ate unconsciously and are highly resistant to change
(Demorest, 1995). In addition, schemas serve to inﬂu-
ence cognitive processing. They inﬂuence attention,
organization, interpretation, and recall of information
(Baldwin, 1992; Zadney & Gerard, 1974).
The sexual script literature has focused on in-
dividuals’ normative, or “traditional,” sexual scripts.
This literature supports the existence of scripts re-
garding sexual interactions. Elements of this script in-
clude the man as the initiator of sexual activity, the
woman as the gatekeeper of sexual activity (i.e., she
decides how far sexual activity should advance), and
the man as having a higher sexual drive (Byers, 1996;
LaPlante, McCormick, & Brannigan, 1980; Lottes,
1988; Metts & Spitzberg, 1996). In addition, whereas
engaging in sexual activity with multiple partners is
viewed as a positive activity for men, the opposite
is true for women. Instead, engaging in activity with
2003 Plenum Publishing Corporation