Sexual Citizens

The fear of campus sexual assault has become an inextricable part of the college experience. Research has shown that by the time they graduate, as many as one in three women and almost one in six men will have been sexually assaulted. But why is sexual assault such a common feature of college life? And what can be done to prevent it? Drawing on the Sexual Health Initiative to Foster Transformation (SHIFT) at Columbia University, the most comprehensive study of sexual assault on a campus to date, Jennifer S. Hirsch and I present an entirely new framework that emphasizes sexual assault’s social roots—transcending current debates about consent, predators in a “hunting ground,” and the dangers of hooking up.

Sexual Citizens is based on years of research interviewing and observing college life—with students of different races, genders, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Our study reveals the social ecosystem that makes sexual assault so predictable, explaining how physical spaces, alcohol, peer groups, and cultural norms influence young people’s experiences and interpretations of both sex and sexual assault. Through the concepts of “sexual projects,” “sexual citizenship,” and “sexual geographies,” we offer a new and widely-accessible language for understanding the forces that shape young people’s sexual relationships. Sexual Citizens seeks to transform our understanding of sexual assault and offers a roadmap for how to address it.

“A timely and sweeping reassessment of campus sexual assault. Hirsch and Khan bring rich data and trenchant insight to bear on one of today’s most urgent issues. This is an exemplary work, sensitive to intersecting inequalities, that represents the future of social science. Provocative and profoundly relevant, Sexual Citizens opens up the possibility of crafting policies that engage the complicated realities of students’ lives with honesty and empathy.”

— ALONDRA NELSON, PRESIDENT OF THE SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH COUNCIL

“Excellent….Absolutely essential reading to prepare teens for what they’ll encounter in college on both the social and sexual fronts.”

— BOOKLIST

“Hirsch and Khan’s systematic public health approach to campus sexual assault not only urges empathic action but also outlines possible solutions to this communal problem. A timely and persuasive contribution to today’s national conversation. A must-read!”

— CLAIRE E. STERK, PRESIDENT AND CHARLES HOWARD CANDLER PROFESSOR OF PUBLIC HEALTH, EMORY UNIVERSITY

“Incisive….This detailed, practical inquiry should be mandatory reading for college administrators and parents of college-age children.”

— PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

“This extraordinary book situates campus sexual assault in context. It teaches us how any particular sexual encounter is shaped as much by the people involved as it is by the history and prior education of the participants, by economic inequality, by the physical and social geography in which they are living. All of us with a responsibility for creating the campus spaces that can generate—or harm—health need to read this book.”

— SANDRO GALEA, DEAN AND ROBERT A. KNOX PROFESSOR, SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH, BOSTON UNIVERSITY
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