Sexual Citizens: Jennifer S. Hirsch & Shamus Khan

"Experiences of assault are fundamentally grounded in power and precarity."

Jennifer S. Hirsch and Shamus Khan are Columbia University professors and co-authors of Sexual Citizens: A Landmark Study of Sex, Power, and Assault on Campus. We discuss the concept of sexual citizenship, the need for comprehensive sex education, and the systemic factors that contribute to sexual assault.

Jennifer S. Hirsch and Shamus Khan are Columbia University professors and co-authors of Sexual Citizens: A Landmark Study of Sex, Power, and Assault on Campus. We discuss the concept of sexual citizenship, the need for comprehensive sex education, and the systemic factors that contribute to sexual assault.

Sexual Citizenship

The concept of sexual citizenship asserts that people have the right to sexual self-determination, including young people. Recognizing young people’s sexual citizenship prepares them to both say no and yes, as well as to be able to hear other people when they do or don’t want to have sex. It also recognizes their fundamental humanity. Establishing sexual citizenship and autonomy for young people is a critical step in preventing campus sexual assault and promoting relationships based on trust, kindness, and love.

Power and Precarity

Meaningful action against sexual assault in its many forms must be grounded in a general project of equality because experiences of assault are fundamentally about power and precarity. Studies show young people who have difficulty paying for basic needs are at a significantly elevated risk of sexual assault. The highest rates of sexual assault reports come from LGBTQ communities because of systemic invalidation of queer identities. Racism, gender discrimination, transphobia, homophobia, and income inequality exacerbate the occurrence of sexual assault.

Comprehensive Sex Ed

Comprehensive sexual education goes well beyond biology, teaching healthy habits and boundaries around consent and mutual respect. Women who have learned refusal skills are half as likely to be assaulted as their less educated peers. Multi-faceted sex education should begin at a young age, so that by the time they mature, young people are prepared to safely and responsibly explore their sexuality. Parents also play a critical role in how to bring values like trust and empathy to any sexual interaction.

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Jennifer S. Hirsch is professor of socio-medical sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. Her research spans five intertwined domains: the anthropology of love; gender, sexuality and migration; sexual, reproductive and HIV risk practices; social scientific research on sexual assault and undergraduate well-being, and the intersections between anthropology and public health. She’s been named one of New York City’s 16 ‘Heroes in the Fight Against Gender-Based Violence.’ In 2012 she was selected as a Guggenheim Fellow.

You can follow her on Twitter @JenniferSHirsch.

Shamus Khan is professor and chair of sociology at Columbia University. He is the author of dozens of books and articles on inequality, American Culture, gender, and elites. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, and many other media outlets. In 2018 he was awarded the Hans L. Zetterberg Prize for “the best sociologist under 40.”

You can follow him on Twitter @shamuskhan.

Sexual Citizens reveals the social ecosystem that makes sexual assault a predictable element of life on a college campus. The powerful concepts of sexual projects, sexual citizenship, and sexual geographies, provide a new language for understanding the forces that shape young people’s sexual relationships. Bringing attention to the importance of physical spaces, of peer influences and norms, of alcohol, and most of all, to the many forms of inequality on campus helps shine new and powerful light upon the ways in which young people experience and interpret sex and assault. The result is an innovative lens that transforms our understanding of sexual assault and provides a new roadmap for how to address it.”

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