What Does ‘Sexual Coercion’ Say About A Society?

Police in Cleveland are still investigating how Ariel Castro allegedly abducted three women in the city and held them for more than a decade, while repeatedly raping them.

There are many details of the case that remain unclear. But as the investigation unfolds, we do know that the case involves a man getting sex by force.

David Greene talks to NPR’s Shankar Vedantam, who regularly joins Morning Edition to discuss social science research, about some of the research into factors that predict sexual coercion.

Anthropologists have long documented the differences in the extent of sexual coercion — including rape — in different human societies. But is it a vestige of evolutionary history, indicative of cultural activity or governed by power dynamics between females and males?

Three decades ago, Peggy Reeves Sanday at the University of Pennsylvania studied 156 older societies. What she found is that sexual coercion was widespread in some and rare, or almost even absent, in many others.

She found that norms seemed to play a very important role: Do you live in a society where sexual coercion is condoned or do you live in a society where such coercion is condemned?

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