Researchers from Canada and the United States may have found a way to help women reduce their risk of sexual assault — at least until a more permanent cultural shift finishes the job. According to their study, released Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, a multi-session training program could teach women what to look for and how to prevent a risky situation from arising. Pay attention, because their results are remarkable: Participants reported more than 63 percent fewer attempted rapes after completing the curriculum.
Charlene Senn, a professor of psychology and women's studies at the University of Windsor and leader of the study, developed the curriculum in 2005. Known as the Enhanced Access Acknowledge Act (EAAA) Sexual Assault Resistance Program — warning, don't try to say that at home — the curriculum calls for students to participate in four three-hour training sessions, in which they learn to detect and respond to high-risk situations. The program particularly emphasizes situations involving men that the participants know, since an overwhelming majority of rapes are committed by acquaintances or friends.
To test the program, Senn and her team, including researchers from two other Canadian universities and Tufts University in Boston, monitored 893 first-year students at the Canadian universities of Windsor, Calgary, and Guelph. Between September 2011 and February 2013, half of the students went through Senn's program, while the other half received only a 15-minute training session and the sort of brochures available on many campuses today.
A year after participants had undergone their respective training, the research team evaluated its progress. Of the women who had received the lesser training, 9.8 percent reported being the victim of a rape, and 9.3 percent reported an attempted rape. Of the women who had received Senn's training, 5.2 percent said they had been raped, and 3.4 percent said they had experienced attempted rapes. In other words, the group who had taken the multi-session program reported more than 46 percent fewer rapes and more than 63 percent fewer attempted rapes. Senn estimates that for every 22 students who complete the curriculum, one rape would be prevented.
Still, the study comes with a side of controversy. For one, Senn's program seems to place the responsibility for reducing one's risk of rape solely on the potential victims, particularly women. Senn admitted that it's not a perfect solution, but rather a step in the right direction. She told the Toronto Star:
What this shows us is that, while we wait for effective programs for men or for cultural shifts in attitudes to happen, there is something practical we can do to give young women the tools they need to better protect themselves from sexual assault.
Despite the controversy, there's no denying the results of the study. They come at a time when universities across the United States are looking for new ways to respond to sexual assault as an issue on their campuses. In April 2014, a White House task force released its recommendations to colleges and universities on how to better handle the issue. Since then, universities have responded by launching task forces and training programs of their own. The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, passed in March 2013, requires all colleges and universities to meet minimum standards in sexual assault policy, reporting, and training by July 1 of this year.
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