Distinguished Graduate Alumni Award Winner, Mary Koss, PhD, Interviewed on This American Life

Dr. Mary Koss

Distinguished Graduate Alumni Award Winner, Mary Koss, PhD (CSPR, ‘72) was recently interviewed on This American Life regarding her research on sexual assault among college students. Koss, who is credited with coining the term “date rape,”  published the first national study on sexual assault among college students in 1987. 

Koss and This American Life producer Chana Joffe-Walt discussed the perception at the time that “rape was rare…clearly an infrequent crime,” which stemmed from previous research that asked women directly if they had been raped. Koss instead theorized that the way to understand this phenomenon was not to ask survey participants if they had been raped; “you don’t ask someone if they’re an alcoholic…who would want to be an alcoholic?”  Rather, the survey should be translated into behavioral terms to better understand sexual victimization and perpetration. For instance, a survey question such as, “have you had someone use force or threaten to harm you to have sexual intercourse when you didn’t want to?”

Koss found that 1 out of 4 women surveyed had experienced an unwanted sexual encounter that met the legal definition of rape, showing that rape was not, in fact, an “infrequent crime.” The results Koss found have now been replicated multiple times by numerous other researchers over the past several decades. Listen to Koss and Joffe-Walt in Act one, She Blinded Us with Science

Composed by Psychology Communication Committee.

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