Students’ Perceptions of Guilt, Responsibility, and Just Punishment When Accounts of Campus Sexual Assault Conflict

Lisa C. Kistler, Claire M. Renzetti, Diane R. Follingstad, Caihong R. Li, Jaspreet K. Chahal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Students are direct participants in university procedures to respond to campus sexual assault claims under Title IX law. Yet, the ways in which students understand procedural justice in the adjudication of campus sexual assault remains understudied. We presented a sample of students at a large, public university with three hypothetical scenarios in which an accused student admits, claims to have misunderstood consent, or denies a report of forcible rape. Using mixed methods to analyze student views of punishment for each scenario, we found that participants assigned the least sanctions, guilt, and responsibility to an accused student who denied a report of rape compared to a student who claimed to have misunderstood consent. Participants assigned the highest sanctions, guilt, and responsibility to the accused student who admitted to rape. In their explanations, few students discussed concern for the victim or the victim’s right to education. When the accused student evaded responsibility, students failed to apply affirmative consent, drew on the catchphrase “he said, she said,” and expressed victim questioning and blame. Our findings suggest that victim-survivors may be exposed to criticism when an accused student contradicts a report of rape. We recommend practitioners adjust Title IX trainings and adjudication procedures accordingly.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)529-546
Number of pages18
JournalSex Roles
Issue number11-12
StatePublished - Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.


  • Campus sexual assault
  • Student perceptions
  • Title IX
  • University sanctions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Social Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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