The study's findings highlight the utility of risk reduction programs that empower women to assertively communicate their sexual desires.
Some men tend to interpret a womans sexual interest as consent to get intimate, even after a direct refusal, according to scientists who identified factors that may predict college students likelihood to commit sexual crimes.
Sexual victimisation of women by men is a growing societal concern that is present in all environments of day- to-day life, researchers said.
More specifically, instances of sexual violence are higher than any other crimes amongst college students.
In response to this growing epidemic, researchers at Binghamton University and Rush University in the US sought to identify a host of situational and dispositional factors that may predict college mens likelihood to engage in sexual misconduct.
The study was comprised of 145 heterosexual male students attending a large university in the southeastern region of the US. The participants were exposed to a series of hypothetical sexual scenarios.
Researchers found that most men tended to confuse sexual interest with consent to sex, but that perceptions of consent varied more as a function of situational factors as opposed to personal characteristics of the men.
"We found that the way in which the woman communicated her sexual intentions, that is verbal refusal versus passive responding, had the largest effect of men's perceptions," said Richard Mattson, associate professor at the Binghamton University.
However, there was also evidence of a precedence effect - which occurs when men equate the occurrence of some past sexual behavior with future consent to high levels of intimacy, in some cases even in the face of direct refusal by the woman.
Similarly, the acceptance of rape myths - such as "When a woman says no, she really means yes" - and adherence to hypermasculine beliefs only became stronger when the womans sexual intentions were ambiguously communicated.
"However, our findings also suggest that some men were earnestly attempting to determine whether consent was given, but were nevertheless relying on questionable sexual scripts to disambiguate the situation," said Mattson.
Aspects of the college experience also influence students, said Mattson.
A sudden decrease in parental supervision and the consumption of alcohol, as examples, underscores an increased risk of involvement in sexually coercive situations among the collegiate setting.
However, such a setting can provide a sphere of influence to educate young men and women at a time when patterns of sexual behavior are developing.
The study's findings highlight the utility of risk reduction programs that empower women to assertively communicate their sexual desires, educate men on the inferential limits of perceived sexual desire, and reinforce unambiguous affirmative behavior as the standard for consent, Mattson said.