Sex Differences in Verbal Versus Nonverbal Conceptions of Consent: It Depends How You Ask the Question

Ellen S. Cohn, University of New Hampshire
Elizabeth Plante, University of New Hampshire
Wendy Walsh, University of New Hampshire
Vicki L. Banyard, University of New Hampshire
Cari A. Moorhead, University of New Hampshire
Sally K. Ward, University of New Hampshire

Some men misinterpret a woman's friendly behavior as consent to sexual activity. The first purpose of the current study was to determine whether men and women differ in perceiving consent as verbal or nonverbal. The second purpose was to investigate whether men and women differ in their perception of the nonverbal behaviors that convey consent. The final purpose was to determine whether men and women differ in the extent of alcohol-related behavior that still allows the person to give consent. 417 college women completed a questionnaire in which they answered demographic questions and questions about verbal and nonverbal consent. Contrary to expectations, men and women had similar ideas about consent being verbal (50% for both), nonverbal (29% for both), or not responding (20% for both) when they were asked directly about how they know they have someone's consent. In contrast, men were more likely than women to interpret nonverbal behaviors (e.g., taking off one's clothes) as implying consent and to assume consent despite one's alcoholic state. The sex differences in interpreting consent from nonverbal behaviors and alcohol-related behaviors may help explain why men and women view acquaintance rape so differently. The findings have implications for rape prevention programs.

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Updated 05/20/2006