How Many Terms Does It Take to Define Sexual Assault? Inconsistencies in U.S. Higher Education Sexual Misconduct Policies

Leanna J. Papp, Sandra R. Levitsky, Elizabeth A. Armstrong, Kamaria B. Porter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Campus sexual misconduct policies (SMPs) outline prohibited conduct. We sought to document the range of terms used to refer to forms of nonconsensual sexual contact in SMPs and to analyze the content of definitions provided for the term “sexual assault.” We coded the 2016-2017 SMPs from a sample of 381 U.S. schools. We identified 125 unique terms and documented both a terminological and conceptual morass around sexual assault. Policy language may have implications for students’ and administrators’ evaluation of experiences and reports of sexual assault.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalViolence Against Women
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Gender Studies
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law

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