Date of Award

Spring 2003

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Ellen S Cohn


College students think about and act differently with regards to power and consent in their relationships. The purpose of this study was to investigate how those attitudes and behaviors may relate to sexual assault and acquaintance rape. Power was examined at the intrapersonal, interpersonal, and socio-cultural levels. In addition, two perspectives on power were studied: power as dominating others and power as a sense of personal empowerment or control. A scale to measure this distinction was created.

Three theories on the relation among power, consent, and sexual assault/rape were examined: (1) consent may moderate a relation between power and sexual assault/rape, (2) power and consent may exert individual effects on sexual assault/rape, and (3) power alone may have the most significant effects on sexual assault/rape. Generally, it was expected that participants who thought of power mainly as dominating others would be less concerned about consent in their relationships and more likely to report that they had or would sexually assault or rape. Two hundred seventy-six students (101 males, 175 females) provided information about their attitudes and behaviors involving power and consent, as well as information about sexual assault and rape proclivities and frequencies of self-reported sexual assault and rape perpetration and victimization.

Results suggested that individual perspectives on power (the interpersonal level) may have the most relevance to sexual assault/rape behaviors. Participants whose thoughts and feelings about power were strongly oriented toward dominance but not toward personal empowerment were more likely to report having engaged in sexual assault/rape perpetration. Contrary to what was expected, consent did not appear to be related to either power or sexual assault/rape. Several theories for the lack of significance relating to consent and other forms of power are discussed. Findings suggest that more research should be done on the distinction between power as dominance and power as personal empowerment, particularly as this distinction pertains to sexual assault, acquaintance rape, and other forms of interpersonal violence.