"The ‘Grey Area:’ College Students' Perceptions of Sexual Consent in Popular Television Programs” (Nona Gronert, 2013)


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Presentation of Undergraduate Thesis with Distinction, Nona Gronert, Department of Sociology, Occidental College


A National Institute of Justice (Fisher et al. 2000) report projects that between one-fourth and one-fifth of female undergraduate students will experience a rape or attempted rape during their college careers. Current research has shown that college students struggle with nonconsensual sexual encounters. The purpose of this study is to explore if mainstream television shows contribute to undergraduate students’ challenges with sexual consent. My research question is: what role do ideas about sexual consent play in people’s perceptions of sex scenes in popular media? Data were collected with audio-recorded, open-ended, semi-structured interviews with students from a liberal arts college in Southern California. The interviews included the viewing of four scenes of ostensibly consensual sexual encounters from popular television programs and questions regarding the nuances of sexual consent in each encounter. Television show scenes were chosen by assessing the top 30 television programs on the popular website, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb). The criteria for selecting television shows were that they have characters close to the age of college students and were aired on network television, thereby making these shows accessible to the public. The four scenes were drawn from Grey’s Anatomy, Gossip Girl, and The Vampire Diaries. These scenes varied in verbal communication related to sexual activity, characters’ relationship status, the presence of alcohol, and violence. Findings show that respondents populated three perspectives about the television scenes. One group considered all of the scenes consensual while another group considered none of the scenes consensual. The third group perceived some scenes as consensual and some scenes as nonconsensual. Respondents disagreed as to whether specific elements of sexual encounters, such as intoxication, violence, and verbal communication, rendered those encounters nonconsensual. Results indicate that college students’ perceptions of consent vary. These differences have the potential to cause confusion regarding consent, which may result in sexual assault.

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  • What was this research a result of? http://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/sexual-assault-victims Image Source: http://www.oneinfourdc.com/
  • "The ‘Grey Area:’ College Students' Perceptions of Sexual Consent in Popular Television Programs” (Nona Gronert, 2013)

    1. 1. The “Grey Area:”College Students’ Perceptions ofSexual Consent in Popular TelevisionProgramsNona GronertOccidental College
    2. 2. Outline• Research question• Methodology• Results• Contributions
    3. 3. Research QuestionWhat role do ideas about sexual consentplay in people’s perceptions of sex scenes inpopular media?
    4. 4. Background Sexual violence College students’ difficulties with sexualconsent Limited experiences of sexual intercourse Television as a space where students learnto think about consent
    5. 5. Methodology Open-ended, semi-structured interviewsusing a reception analysis approach 19 interviews with college students 4 television scenes
    6. 6. Findings• 3 groups• Focus on the presence of violence, alcoholand verbal communication of consent• Not unified in their interpretations ofsexual consent
    7. 7. Violence“I still think it comes down to body language, you know, theywere still, like, you know, if they hate each other, they wouldntbe getting closer and closer to each other, you know. It’s, like,kinda that sort of thing, like, they kinda, ummm... they bothwant to be in that position, I guess. And I feel like at any pointeven when they started, they initiated the, you know, when, like,they started kissing, they could have ended it there if theywanted it to.”--Hal
    8. 8. Violence
    9. 9. Violence“It’s more or less this forced action that then theperson consents to, which is not ok ‘cause likeessentially each time is like assaulting an individualprior to the giving of their consent . . . but, like, it’snot, it’s just not right to do it that way.”--Jack
    10. 10. Alcohol
    11. 11. Alcohol“The fact that they were drunk? Uh, I mean Ithink it’s fine. Neither one of them looked likethey were gonna die, they both were drunk.Ummm … so, it didn’t seem like, you know, onewas taking advantage of the other.”--Alex
    12. 12. Alcohol“If she was drunk, then I would say no, it wasnot consensual . . . but I think that one’smore grey area, not consensual, dependingon how drunk she was.” --Rose
    13. 13. Verbal Consent“It wasn’t so much a verbal question like, ‘doyou want to have sex?’ but, like, the way theywere communicating verbally eventuallyphysically seemed to be consensual.”--Rose
    14. 14. Verbal Consent“I mean the third one is like the one where there’sactually a question, like I mean he doesn’t outright say‘do you wanna have sex’ but he says ‘do you want to getout of here’ and shes like ‘yes.’ That’s like the only onewhere there’s like an actual yes! [giggling] I mean like averbal yes.” --Hannah
    15. 15. Verbal Consent“They’re not consensual because no one’s sortOf asks another if they should have sex.”--Tony
    16. 16. Verbal Consent“No, I would say, there was like no talk of consent,really . . . In the Vampire Diaries one, by him sayinglike, ‘lets get out of here,’ there might be anassumption associated with that and then her saying,‘Okay,’ like could be consent, quote, unquote. But,I dont really think that qualifies, either.”--Natalie
    17. 17. Contributions• Multiple contrasting sexual scripts• Disagreement as to what constitutes verbalconsent
    18. 18. Acknowledgements• Comps class• Professor Wade• Supportive friends• Family
    19. 19. Thank you!Nona GronertOccidental College
    20. 20. Policy Implications• Dialogue about sexual consent• Campus-wide standards• Verbal consent
    21. 21. Future Research• Public and private universities• Homosexual and bisexual students• Differences in sexual scripts• Criteria for consent