An estimated one-fifth of women are sexually assaulted on college campuses. College men have consistently reported committing acts that range from unwanted kissing and sexual contact to behaviors that meet the legal definitions of rape. Sixty-three percent of men at one university admitted to an attempt or actually committing acts that qualify as forced rape, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC).
Recent studies have suggested that narcissism is a factor that increases a person’s likelihood of committing rape and sexual assault. To examine the role of narcissism in the perpetration of rape and other forms of sexual aggression, Emily R. Mouilso and Karen S. Calhoun from the University of Georgia looked at the relationship between three aspects of narcissism (vulnerable, non-pathological and pathological) and sexual perpetration committed by 234 college men from a large southeastern university. The study, “Personality and Perpetration: Narcissism Among College Sexual Assault Perpetrators,” was published in the journal Violence Against Women.
The researchers selected a college campus, as a large percentage of rapes and sexual assaults occur on college campuses, and the majority of cases are committed by people who are known, rather than strangers. Mouilso and Calhoun defined pathological narcissism as having the closest association with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), a type of personality disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition revised (DSM-IV), that consists of the following characteristics:
On the other hand, vulnerable narcissism is characterized by emotional sensitivity, low self-esteem, and overcompensation for the low self-esteem. In the present study, vulnerable narcissism was measured using the Hypersensitive Narcissism Scale (HSNS; Hendin & Cheek, 1997). Non-pathological narcissism was considered to be a more adaptive and healthy form of narcissism that was assessed with the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI). Narcissistic personality disorder was assessed with the NPD subscale of the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM Disorders II (SCID-N) Personality Questionnaire.
College men who participated in the study were an average of 19 years old, the majority (95 percent) had never been married and more than half (52 percent) were in their first year of college. Male participants were given a 10-item self-report measure of sexual assault perpetration that asked questions about different types of perpetrations, which ranged from unwanted kissing to rape, and the frequency at which they occurred since the men were 14 years old.
Eighteen percent of the men reported that they had committed some form of sexual assault perpetration, while 4 percent reported that they had attempted or completed rape. Pathological narcissism, as the researchers predicted, was significantly related to the perpetration of rape and sexual assault.
On the other hand, non-pathological narcissism was not associated with sexual assault or rape, and those with vulnerable narcissism were more likely to be perpetrators of rape. In particular, individuals with vulnerable narcissism used drugs and/or alcohol to perpetrate rape. The findings of this study link pathological narcissism and vulnerable narcissism to the perpetration of sexual assault and rape.
Sovereign Health provides comprehensive and individualized behavioral health treatment services to women in a safe and supportive environment. At Sovereign Health of Arizona, women who are victims of rape and/or sexual assault can receive specialized treatments for trauma and related mental health and substance abuse. For more information on the treatment programs available at Sovereign Health of Arizona, please contact our 24/7 helpline.
About the author
Amanda Habermann is a staff writer for Sovereign Health. A graduate of California Lutheran University, she received her M.S. in clinical psychology with an emphasis in psychiatric rehabilitation. Her master’s thesis was written on “The effect of parental codependency on elementary school children’s social and emotional development,” and her research has been accepted for poster presentations at the Western Psychological Association. She brings to the team her extensive clinical background and skills in psychological testing and assessment, clinical diagnosis, research and treatment, and recovery techniques for patients with mental illness. She is a passionate researcher and enjoys staying up to date on the newest topics in the field. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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