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Abstract

Women live in a world where nearly one in four will experience sexual assault. In fact, sexual violence is now so common that the World Health Organization recently declared it a global epidemic. Despite the prevalence of such incidents, few perpetrators self-identify. In the cases where they did acknowledge their infractions, many perpetrators said they acted as they did because they misconceived a partner’s sexual intention. This current article will argue that confusion about consent serves as more than a potential risk factor; it also provides a reason for disclosing details about the assault.

By using the social media website, Reddit.com, we found a connection between confusion about consent and the perpetrators’ desire to recount their actions. Researchers gathered 77 first-hand sexual assault accounts from Reddit.com and then thematically analyzed perpetrators’ statements using an inductive qualitative method, which allows researchers to start with a broad area of study and let theory emerge from the data set.

Findings supported the notion that perpetrators’ emotions about consent affected their decisions to disclose. Many expressed a need for catharsis, to “get it off (their) chest.” Others described feeling guilt or remorse, expressing that they felt “sick” with themselves. Still more questioned whether they had crossed a line and wondered whether their experience constituted sexual assault. For these stated reasons, perpetrators turned to Reddit, telling fellow users that they would “like to hear (readers’) opinions.”

This study demonstrates that tools such as social media can be used to gain a greater insight into a perpetrator’s mindset. Public policy, education curricula, and prevention programs can implement better language and more effective content by better understanding what confuses perpetrators about the definition and implications of consent.

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