Women’s pro­gram shown to re­duce rapes by nearly half

A course in re­sist­ing as­sault is far bet­ter for col­lege stu­dents than mere brochures, a Canadian study finds.

Los Angeles Times - - OP-ED - By Melissa Healy melissa.healy@la­times.com Twit­ter: @LATMelis­saHealy

WASH­ING­TON — An in­ten­sive pro­gram show­ing fe­male col­lege stu­dents how to rec­og­nize and re­sist sex­ual ag­gres­sion re­duced their chances of be­ing raped over a year pe­riod by nearly half, ac­cord­ing to new re­search.

The study, pub­lished Wed­nes­day in the New Eng­land Jour­nal of Medicine, com­pared the ef­fects of at­tend­ing a four-ses­sion course in re­sist­ing sex­ual as­sault to a more typ­i­cal uni­ver­sity ap­proach of pro­vid­ing brochures on sex­ual as­sault.

The pro­gram is one of the first to demon­strate suc­cess in a con­trolled trial — and among the first to be pub­lished by the med­i­cal jour­nal, best-known as a fo­rum for clin­i­cal drug tri­als.

The study comes just weeks be­fore col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties across the coun­try are re­quired to de­tail how they will deal with sex­ual as­sault. Those re­ports, due to the U.S. Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion on July 1, are man­dated by the 2013 Cam­pus Sex­ual Vi­o­lence Elim­i­na­tion Act.

At least 1 in 5 women has been a vic­tim of sex­ual as­sault that oc­curred while she was at­tend­ing col­lege. By far, most of the at­tempted or com­pleted sex­ual as­saults on col­lege cam­puses are per­pe­trated by class­mates, dates or ac­quain­tances of the vic­tim.

Fresh­man and sopho­more women are thought to be at the great­est risk of sex­ual as­sault.

Ex­perts say the ubiq­uity of al­co­hol, free­dom from parental mon­i­tor­ing, and an at­mos­phere that cel­e­brates ma­cho and ath­letic bravado are all fac­tors that foster sex­ual as­saults.

Canadian psy­chol­o­gist Char­lene Y. Senn, lead au­thor of the study, said that the so­cial­iza­tion of young women of­ten pre­vents many would-be vic­tims from ac­knowl­edg­ing and re­spond­ing to a sex­ual preda­tor in ways that will thwart an as­sault.

Young women ar­riv­ing at col­lege have widely been so­cial­ized to be friendly and lik­able, which can blind them to the ag­gres­sive ad­vances they might en­counter at a party, she added.

In 2005, Senn de­vised a cur­ricu­lum to help young women over­come the emo­tional bar­ri­ers that de­lay or pre­vent their recog­ni­tion of sex­ual ag­gres­sion and re­spond to it.

Over four three-hour ses­sions, the course worked on skills to as­sess, ac­knowl­edge and, if nec­es­sary, re­buff un­wanted sex­ual ad­vances.

Those ses­sions in­cluded in­struc­tion in rec­og­niz­ing sex­ual co­er­cion and the cir­cum­stances in which it can take place. Par­tic­i­pants also had two hours of self-de­fense train­ing based on the mar­tial art Wen-Do.

Ex­perts cau­tion that re­duc­ing sex­ual vi­o­lence by fo­cus­ing on a vic­tim’s will or abil­ity to re­sist has fallen out of fa­vor in re­cent years.

In their place are pro­grams that ad­dress the mo­tives of po­ten­tial per­pe­tra­tors and en­er­gize by­standers to in­ter­vene. Such ap­proaches place the blame for sex­ual as­sault squarely on the per­pe­tra­tor.

By fo­cus­ing on a po­ten­tial vic­tim’s power to thwart her at­tack­ers, some ex­perts warned that such a pro­gram might con­trib­ute to blam­ing vic­tims.

In an ed­i­to­rial ac­com­pa­ny­ing the study, Kath­leen C. Basile, an epi­demi­ol­o­gist with the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion, wrote that the study’s “pri­mary weak­ness is that it places the onus for pre­ven­tion on po­ten­tial vic­tims, pos­si­bly ob­scur­ing the re­spon­si­bil­ity of per­pe­tra­tors and oth­ers.”

But teach­ing women how to iden­tify and re­sist are still im­por­tant strate­gies, Senn says.

Be­tween Septem­ber 2011 and Fe­bru­ary 2013, 893 fresh­man women at the Uni­ver­si­ties of Cal­gary, Wind­sor and Guelph in Canada took part in the study.

Hold­ing three-hour ses­sions on week­nights and marathon ses­sions on week­ends, Senn and her coau­thors put 451 women through a se­ries of lec­tures, prob­lem-solv­ing ex­er­cises, dis­cus­sions and self-de­fense classes aimed at help­ing them de­fine their own sex­ual de­sires and bound­aries, rec­og­nize and dis­cour­age sex­ual ag­gres­sion and re­sist an as­sault.

The re­main­ing 442 women were as­signed to a con­trol group, in which they at­tended a 15-minute ses­sion and were pro­vided brochures on sex­ual as­sault.

About a year af­ter the ses­sions ended, Senn and her col­leagues sur­veyed the par­tic­i­pants, ask­ing de- tailed ques­tions about their sex­ual con­tacts in the pre­ced­ing year.

Among women of­fered the brochures on sex­ual as­sault, 9.8% re­ported they had been raped and 9.3% re­ported they had been the in­tended vic­tims of at­tempted rapes.

Some 40% re­ported other non­con­sen­sual sex­ual con­tact, in which they ex­pe­ri­enced un­wanted sex­ual touch­ing or fondling.

An ad­di­tional 14% said they had been sub­ject to co­er­cive sex in which a per­pe­tra­tor pres­sured or ma­nip­u­lated them into com­pli­ance.

Among women who got the re­sis­tance train­ing, 5.2% said they had been raped and 3.4% re­ported at­tempted rapes — re­duc­tions of 46.3% and 63.2% re­spec­tively.

Rates of non­con­sen­sual sex­ual con­tact re­ported by this group were 34% lower than those in the con­trol group, and re­ports of sex­ual co­er­cion were roughly 24% less com­mon.

Sarah Yang, a 2014 grad­u­ate of UC Davis who was pres­i­dent of that cam­pus’ Women’s Health Ini­tia­tive, said pub­li­ca­tion of the study in a med­i­cal jour­nal boosts the pro­file of the is­sue.

“It val­i­dates cam­pus sex­ual as­sault as a public health is­sue — and that’s huge,” said Yang, an as­pir­ing physi­cian. “It’s na­tional now. It’s in­ter­na­tional.”

Senn em­pha­sized that train­ing only women to avert sex­ual as­sailants ad­dresses just part of the so­lu­tion.

“There’s no quick fixes,” she said. “We have to make stop­ping sex­ual vi­o­lence ev­ery­one’s prob­lem — ev­ery­one’s busi­ness — to hold men accountable, to sup­port vic­tims. But we also need to give women the tools they need to fight back.”

‘We have to make stop­ping sex­ual vi­o­lence ev­ery­one’s prob­lem … to hold men accountable, to sup­port vic­tims. But we also need to give women the tools they need to fight back.’ — Char­lene Y. Senn, Canadian psy­chol­o­gist and lead au­thor of the study

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.