Date of Award

Fall 2019

Document Type


First Advisor

Catherine Berheide

Second Advisor

Andrew Lindner


How does treatment of consensual sexual behavior affect willingness to report assault on college campuses? This study proposes that higher levels of policy-based inhibition of informed, consensual sex cultures lead to lower reported rates of sexual assault because they increase stigma and minimize discussions about sexual behavior. Stigma reduces willingness to address marginalized communities and deviant behaviors, in this case sexual activity, particularly outside of wedlock. If people are not willing to discuss sex, reporting sexual assault is unlikely because of high social stakes associated with breaking norms. Policies about consensual sexual behaviors are reflective operationalizations of the stigmas that lead to sexual activity being labelled as “deviant.” In this study, levels of inhibition are represented by a content analysis of campus policies regarding consensual sexual behaviors and incidences of reported sexual assault per 10,000 students for a stratified random sample of 128 private, liberal arts schools of 500-5,000 undergraduate students. The study controls for Protestant affiliation and Historically Black College or University (HBCU) identity. Inhibition level did not have independent statistically significant impact on reported sexual assault incidences on college campuses. Protestant affiliation, however, was associated both with level of inhibition and with incidences of assaults reported. HBCU status had no effect on sexual assault rates. The results fail to support that policy-based inhibition of sex-positive cultures on college campuses is associated with reported sexual assault rate. Therefore, the hypothesis was not supported, implying inhibition level is representative of restrictive culture of Protestant schools and the 2 SEX CULTURES & ASSAULT REPORTING corresponding number of assaults reported, rather than being an independent cause for reported assault number. The non-significant correlation between policy and reports also affects understandings of the social function of policy, as this study does not find that policy affects behavior. Together, the findings suggest opportunities to consider how policy reflects different cultures and how to create spaces