Components of Sexual Consent: Gender Differences in Recognition

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Lima, Ana Paula
Washburn University
Department of Psychology
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Sexual assault is a pervasive problem in current society (Jozkowski, 2011). Individuals who have been sexually assaulted may experience significant negative physical and mental health consequences (Ullman & Brecklin, 2003). To decrease the prevalence of sexual assaults, multiple intervention programs have been developed; however, prevalence rates of sexual assault among college students have not declined in nearly five decades (Beres, 2007; Carmody, 2005; Schulhofer, 1998). Understanding sexual assault may become difficult because definitions vary. One approach is to define consent according to its components: Limited, Active, Willing, and Withdrawn (LAWW; Lima et al., 2018). The present study examined gender differences in the understanding of consent utilizing the LAWW component model of consent. A total of four vignettes were created, each showing a violation of a different component of LAWW consent presented in a scenario depicting sexual assault. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four vignettes and asked to rate the extent to which they believed consent was violated, and described what, if anything, was wrong with the scenario. We found significant gender differences in both recognition of consent and accuracy of identification, in that women were better at recognizing a violation of consent and could more accurately identify the components of consent compared to men. Most men and women identified the perpetrator in the vignettes as male, regardless of sexual orientation; however, women were more likely to identify the perpetrator as male. These results can be used to help identify areas of improvement in sexual assault prevention programs.