April 20, 2017

A new research paper highlights the wide variation in definitions of consent at universities across the United States.

Sarah Treves-Kagan

Sarah Treves-Kagan

According to Sarah Treves-Kagan, MPH, a doctoral student in the Department of Health Behavior at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and co-author of the study, most colleges and universities (93 percent) do have a policy against sexual assault, many of which (87.6 percent) define consent. Some schools, however, have significantly more comprehensive definitions than others.

“Consent lies at the crux of clearly defining sex versus sexual assault,” Treves-Kagan said. “Using explicit definitions is a critical step in addressing sexual assault on college campuses.”

The full article, titled “Sexual Assault Policies and Consent Definitions: A Nationally Representative Investigation of United States Colleges and Universities,” was published online April 17 by the Journal of School Violence. The student-led research was an interdisciplinary project conducted by student and faculty members of UNC’s Gender Based Violence Research Group (GBVRG).

The study assessed 995 college and university websites to identify the types of schools that are less likely to have sexual assault policies or consent definitions in place. These institutions included several smaller, private universities and universities with a majority of male students.

The GBVRG research team hopes the results will help direct future efforts to expand the number of universities that have clear sexual assault policies and consent definitions on the books.

“There is still a lot to learn about how to craft the best policies to reduce the prevalence of sexual violence on college campuses,” Treves-Kagan said. “A critical component of improving these policies will be to continue collecting data about sexual assault on college campuses and examining trends over time.”

The article’s first author is Laurie Graham, MSW, a student in UNC’s School of Social Work. Additional co-authors from the Gillings School include Kathryn E. Moracco, PhD, and J. Michael Bowling, PhD, in the Department of Health Behavior; Erin P. Magee, MPH, and Sandra L. Martin, PhD, in the Department of Maternal and Child Health; and Stephanie M. DeLong, MPH, in the Department of Epidemiology. Other co-authors represent UNC’s School of Social Work, the Injury Prevention Research Center and RTI International.


Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or dpesci@unc.edu



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