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Many women enrolled in college experience rape and other forms of sexual aggression. Afterwards, women must make sense of what occurred and often place a label on their experiences. Research indicates that even when the legal requirements for rape are met, most women do not apply this label to their experiences. This study examines predictors of labeling an incident of sexual aggression as being rape, using data that was collected from university women as part of a longitudinal study examining risk and protective factors related to sexual and relationship aggression. An ecological model is used to test the hypothesis that individual, situational, relation, community, and societal variables predict the decision to label an experience with sexual aggression as being rape. The results of this exploratory analysis are encouraging and suggest that situational factors are particularly important in the labeling decision. Other variables that reached significance in the study may impact the interpretation of situational factors, thus lending support to the proposition that the decision to apply the rape label can be studied through the lens of an ecological framework.

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Application of an Ecological Model to the Labeling of Sexual Aggression

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