Students’ Perceptions of Justice: Application of Sanctions, Guilt, and Responsibility in Campus Sexual Assault Cases

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Despite growing attention to adjudication of campus sexual assault cases, little is known how students perceive “justice” for such cases. The present study examined whether victim, perpetrator, and assault characteristics influenced students’ perceptions of: whether a sanctionable violation occurred; the type of sanction to be applied; perceived severity of the sanction; proportion of guilt attributable to the victim and perpetrator; and level of responsibility of the victim and perpetrator. Fourteen factors pertaining to potential negative evaluation of rape victims were derived; thus, a non-factorial vignette survey design focusing only on each main effect was employed. 846 college students responded to one of four versions of a randomly distributed survey each containing eight vignettes that varied to represent all levels of the 14 factors. Students were not consistent in their application of sanctions or assignment of guilt or responsibility for the sexual assault vignettes, but rather were influenced in their ratings for 10 of the 14 factors. Students responded differentially to levels of the following factors: psychological impact on the victim, victim’s medical consequences, reason for the victim’s incapacitation leading to assault, consistency of victim’s and perpetrator’s accounts of the assault, sexual orientation of the victim, type of forced sex, number of perpetrators involved, fraternity membership of the perpetrator, gender of the perpetrator, and victim’s initial display of sexual interest in the perpetrator. Cases consistent with rape myths appear to influence students’ perceptions of justice. Findings are discussed in terms of implications for research and prevention programming.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)307-324
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Family Violence
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.


  • Campus sexual violence
  • Perceptions of justice in sexual assault cases
  • Sanctions for sexual assault
  • Sexual assault
  • Violence against women

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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