Date of Graduation
Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)
School of Education
International and Multicultural Education
Catholic Educational Leadership EdD
Most children’s exposure to media begins in infancy and increases into adulthood. Even programming produced for children is rife with sexist and racist messaging (Harris, 2018). Because of its seductive imagery, media act as a highly influential form of sex education. Problematically, media habitually portray nonconsensual behavior as sexy and consent-seeking as unsexy (Katz, 2019). Black women are routinely devalued, hypersexualized, and exoticized in movies and television (Donovan, 2007). The result of such media exposure is that young people often misunderstand what constitutes sexual assault (Edwards, 2015). Logically, when individuals do not clearly understand the differences between consensual sex and assault, they are more likely to perpetrate sexual assault themselves and less likely to seek assistance when victimized.
Black women and young adults are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence. One out of every five women in college experiences sexual assault (Edwards, 2015), and one in four Black girls experience sexual abuse before they reach 18, equating to a higher likelihood than the general population (Balow, 2020). Though many schools are now incorporating rape-prevention programming in their sex education curricula, it is frequently decontextualized, limiting the potential efficacy (Cameron-Lewis, 2012). For example, the California State University system, where this study took place, mandates its students receive sexual assault prevention training annually.
Though proven to be beneficial in aiding students in identifying advertising fallacies and gender inequities (Harris, 2018), no studies could be found which explore how critical media literacy (CML) could be used as a tool of sexual violence prevention. To address the lack of research, this study collected data to lay the groundwork for building CML consent education.
Using a 37-question online survey incorporating open and closed questions, this study examined college students’ CML skills related to sex and sexuality, their understanding of consent, and their capacity to identify nonconsent in media texts. Findings showed significant student CML skill variability in all three areas. The male group vastly underperformed female and non-binary/ trans/ agender groups in all three subjects explored. Furthermore, a lack of correlation between year in school and consent understanding was observed, suggesting that the annual sexual assault prevention training students receive does have a cumulative effect on students’ understanding of consent. Further, CML related to sex and sexuality, and consent were found to predict consent understanding. Meaning, not only does the capacity to recognize nonconsent in media predict consent understanding, but students’ recognition of sexually oppressive messages in texts also predicts their understanding of consent.
This study will make teachers and administrators better aware of students’ CML skills related to sexism and consent, thus strengthening their position to design optimally effective sexual violence prevention curricula and advocate for students to receive it.
Pella, R. S. (2021). Sex or Sexual Assault? Critical Media Literacy as a Tool for Consent Education. Retrieved from https://repository.usfca.edu/diss/593