Study links watching certain crime shows to understanding consent

Students who watch Law and Order have lower levels of rape myth acceptance and a better understanding of sexual consent, according to a new WSU study.

This is compared to students who watch other crime dramas, such as CSI and NCIS, who were found to have lower intention to seek sexual consent. The survey included a list of popular crime dramas. Most students who participated watched a show that fell within the three franchises.

“The main difference between Law and Order, NCIS and CSI is it shows the criminals in court and almost all cases the viewers see the verdict, which is usually guilty,” said Stacey Hust, associate professor and lead researcher at the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication.

Researchers surveyed several hundred college freshmen, and asked them how often they watched particular crime dramas.

“Previous research has shown that the freshman population is most at risk for sexual assault,” said Ming Lei, a communication professor at State University of New York Geneseo.

The hypothesis of the study was based on results and feedback from research done at WSU in 2008 study, which found crime dramas could be useful venues for preventative messages.

“It’s part of a long string of research,” said Emily Marett, a management instructor at the College of Business at Mississippi State University.

From those results and peer review feedback, WSU researchers designed another study about the difference between specific crime dramas.

“My interest area is consent,” Hust said. “It’s three-pronged consent: asking, refusing unwanted sex and adherence to answer.”

Those who watched Law and Order exhibited a positive correlation to understanding three-pronged consent, whereas CSI had a negative correlation.

NCIS does not cover sexual assault as much as the other two shows, Hust said. Consent knowledge was limited in those viewers.

“CSI almost sexualizes the crime, it also reinforces negative gender stereotypes,” Marett said.

CSI focuses on the criminal much more in its content, Hust said.

“People watching CSI focus on the crime scene investigation – it benefits from a good criminal and viewers who watch it often don’t see the criminal punished,” Hust said.

Participants who watched Law and Order were found to be more likely to refuse sex if they did not feel comfortable with it and were more likely to respect their partner’s decision.

“If you watched Law and Order, you’re more likely to say no, even when you’re in a situation that you feel obligated to participate,” Marett said.

Marett said many college students in already-established relationships do not feel comfortable or confident enough to say no when pressured for sex.

“Refusing unwanted sex is basically a measure of empowerment for the woman,” Marett said.