The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Understanding Sexual Assault Perpetration: A Test of the Confluence Model in a Diverse, National Sample of Men

Sunday, January 19, 2014: 10:15 AM
Marriott Riverwalk, River Terrace, Upper Parking Level, Elevator Level P2 (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Erin A. Casey, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Washington, Tacoma, WA
Tatiana Masters, PhD, Research Scientist, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Blair Beadnell, PhD, Principal Research Scientist, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Marilyn Hoppe, PhD, Senior Research Scientist, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Diane Morrison, PhD, Professor, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Elizabeth A. Wells, PhD, Research Professor, University of Washington, Seattle, WA

Given persistently high rates of sexual violence in the U.S, and the consistent finding that most perpetrators of sexual assault are male (Black et al., 2011), researchers have continued to refine the knowledge base regarding risk factors for sexual aggression among men.  The confluence model of sexual aggression (Malamuth et al., 1991) has emerged as one of the most empirically supported etiological theories of sexual assault perpetration, yet its application to diverse, community-based samples has been limited. This study’s goals were to test the model in a racially diverse, national sample and to better elucidate the relative contribution of the three proximal risk pathways in the model (endorsement of hostile masculinity, an impersonal approach to sexuality, and problematic substance use). In addition, we sought to more clearly understand the relative contribution of antecedent factors in the model, namely adverse childhood experiences, and to better explicate mediating pathways between specific types of childhood maltreatment (physical violence, sexual violence and witnessing parental abuse) and later sexual aggression.


We recruited 555 heterosexually active men aged 18-25 for a cross-sectional, web-based survey.  Race/ethnicity was distributed nearly equally across 5 groups: African American, Asian American, European American, Latino, and Multiracial. Participants represented all geographic regions of the US.  Confluence model-relevant measures included but were not limited to: the Sexual Experiences Survey, the Adolescent Masculine Ideology in Relationships, Hostility Toward Women, Sociosexual Orientation, and Adverse Childhood Experiences scales, as well as measures of alcohol use and lifetime sexual partners.  The model was tested via structural equation modeling in Mplus7.0.


Our final structural model evidenced good fit to the data (RMSEA = .06, CFI = .90, TLI = .81, χ2 test of model fit = 104.5 (p < .001).  Unlike previous tests of this model, we found that endorsing hostile masculinity (traditional ideas about masculinity, coupled with hostility toward women), but not problematic alcohol use or an impersonal approach to sex, predicted sexual aggression. In the full model, childhood sexual abuse was the only adverse childhood experience that had a direct effect on sexual aggression, which was partially mediated by hostile masculinity. Because of significant co-variation among types of childhood adversity, we conducted follow-up analyses to examine how combinations of child maltreatment were related to sexual assault perpetration.  Findings suggest that overlapping physical abuse, sexual abuse and witnessing parental violence significantly compounded risk for sexual aggression. Overall, 60% of men who reported perpetrating sexual assault also reported experiencing childhood maltreatment.


Hostile, domineering attitudes towards women were a more powerful driver of sexual aggression than an “impersonal,” or a non-intimacy based approach to sexuality in this study, suggesting that universal prevention efforts aimed at shifting gendered attitudes and an endorsement of hostile masculinity may be more effective than addressing sexual behavior itself.  Further, the unique as well as cumulative role of specific childhood adverse experiences in sexual aggression highlight the need for selected trauma-sensitive prevention with maltreated youth.