Sexual Violence against Women in STEM: A Test of Backlash Theory Among Undergraduate Women

Dennis E. Reidy, Laura F. Salazar, Elizabeth Baumler, Leila Wood, Leah E. Daigle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


It has been argued that increasing the number of women in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields could mitigate violence against women by advancing gender equality. However, some research points to a “backlash” effect wherein gains in gender equality are associated with heighted sexual violence (SV) against women. In this study, we compare SV against undergraduate women majoring in STEM disciplines to those majoring in non-STEM disciplines. Data were collected between July and October of 2020 from undergraduate women (N = 318) at five institutions of higher education in the United States. Sampling was stratified by STEM versus non-STEM majors and male-dominated versus gender-balanced majors. SV was measured using the revised Sexual Experiences Survey. Results indicated that women majoring in STEM disciplines that are gender balanced reported more SV victimization in the form of sexual coercion, attempted sexual coercion, attempted rape, and rape compared to their peers in both gender-balanced and male-dominated non-STEM and male-dominated STEM majors. These associations held even after controlling for age, race/ethnicity, victimization prior to college, sexual orientation, college binge drinking, and hard drug use during college. These data suggest that the risk of repeated SV victimization within STEM populations may be a threat to sustained gender parity in these fields and ultimately to gender equality and equity. Gender balance in STEM should not be furthered without addressing the potential use of SV as a potential means of social control over women.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8357-8376
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Interpersonal Violence
Issue number13-14
StatePublished - Jul 2023


  • sexual assault
  • sexual violence
  • violence against women

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Applied Psychology


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