A sexual assault prevention program aimed at female college freshmen has been found to aid women in avoiding sexual assault on college and university campuses.
Sexual assault is a much-discussed problem on college campuses, especially for freshman girls: a popular statistic (though disputed) shows that one in five women who attend college are assaulted at some point during their education. This program, and many others, focus on the actions that women can take to protect themselves, despite activists who say that the key to preventing rape lies with educating potential rapists in addition to the victims.
Three Canadian campuses hosted sessions for first-year students on “assessing risk, learning self-defense, and defining personal sexual boundaries.” The students who took the class were surveyed a year after completing the class. Out of the 451 women that were randomly assigned to the class, about 5% were raped within that year, compared to 10% in the control group of 442 women, who received brochures and a brief informative session. The rate of attempted rape was reported to be 3.4% among women who took the extended classes and 9.3% among the control group.
Students who enrolled in the sexual assault prevention classes were recruited through psychology classes at universities in Ontario, and could take the four three-hour sessions in a single weekend or over the course of the month. Its structure included role-playing, discussions, and problem-solving, writes Rachael Rettner of Live Science.
The findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine, according to Diane Hoffman of NY City Today.
Sarah DeGue, a behavioral scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who also worked with the White House Task Force on campus sexual assault prevention programs, said that this strategy can certainly reduce the risk for some victims, but not all. Jan Hoffman of the New York Times quotes her:
It’s possible that potential perpetrators could encounter individuals who have received training and just move on to more vulnerable individuals.
According to DeGue, a truly effective program would have to begin in middle school and continue through high school and college, and encourage students to look critically at the nature and causes of sexual violence, to step in as bystanders to help prevent assault, and to identify the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships.
Charlene Y. Senn, the lead author of the study and a social psychologist at the University of Windsor, said:
… it gives women the knowledge and skills they need right now, but the long-term solution is to reduce their need to defend themselves.
Dr. Senn found that a major problem was that the students had only been trained to avoid the “stranger rapist,” who haunts deserted parking lots and uses force. Rape by friends, acquaintances, and romantic partners is far more common. People who are assaulted by someone they know are less likely to use the violent self-defense tactics that they have been taught.
Julia Glum of the The IB Times quoted co-author and psychology professor Paula Barata on the significance of this particular program:
This is the first study to show that these types of knowledge, skills and tools that we can give women can reduce rape by a significant degree. For every 22 women that take the program, one rape will be prevented or one woman will not be raped.
Sexual assault will only be stopped when men stop sexually assaulting women. But that hasn’t happened yet and so women still need the skills and the tools to forcefully resist a sexual assault if it is going to happen.
One student, 22 year old Lindsey Boyes, shared her compelling story about attending the class and encountering the idea that a person who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol cannot legally give consent. She said:
I felt an adrenaline rush and some shock. It was eye-opening to realize that I had been raped in high school. … I no longer felt shame and guilt about it being my fault.