A study conducted at three universities in Canada shows that a campus rape prevention program was successful – but the responsibility falls on the victims to avoid assault, not the perpetrators.
In a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine, the prevention program trained first-year female college students on how to avoid rape with sessions on assessing risk, learning self-defense, and defining personal sexual boundaries. The study concluded that these education programs lowered the risk of being sexually assaulted. A common statistic is that one in five women will be sexually assaulted during her college years.
The search to identify successful methods of combatting college sexual assault has gained momentum after a number of highly-publicized rapes on college campuses across the country. Last year, the White House issued guidelines on how colleges should address sexual assault. In 2014, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand presented a bipartisan bill taking aim at sexual violence on college campuses.
Annie Clark, a women’s right activist and co-founder of survivor advocacy organization End Rape On Campus, said she believed the study is well-intentioned but the burden to prevent rape shouldn’t be on victims.
“We should be talking to men and young boys and educating them,” Clark said. “The frame should be ‘don’t rape’ not how to prevent it.”
Like Clark, Kathleen Basile, lead behavioral scientist in violence prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pointed out a major flaw in the research in an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine accompanying the study.
“Its primary weakness is that it places the onus for prevention on potential victims, possibly obscuring the responsibility of perpetrators and others,” she writes. “What happens when women who complete the intervention cannot successfully resist rape?”
In the study, first-year female students at three universities in Canada attended four, three-hour prevention sessions and were surveyed a year after they completed the program. The sessions taught the women how to escape a chokehold and ways to free themselves from underneath someone on a bed. According to the Globe and Mail, women were taught how to be aware of their environment, protection tactics such as covering their drinks, and speaking up when a situation feels uncomfortable.
Researchers followed up with the students who took the sessions after 12 months. The women reported, where applicable, one of five different categories of assault: completed rape, attempted rape, coercion, attempted coercion, or nonconsensual sexual contact.
For the 451 women who completed the sessions, the risk of rape was 5%. Among the 442 women in a control group who were given brochures and brief information sessions on rape prevention, the risk of rape was 10%. The risk of attempted rape was 3.4% for women who participated in the program, compared to 9.3% for those who did not.
The researchers calculated that for every 22 women who participate in the program, one rape would be prevented.
Charlene Y. Senn, the lead author and a social psychologist at the University of Windsor, agreed that the issue of college sexual assault needs to be addressed more comprehensively, but that the program offers immediate relief.
“It gives women the knowledge and skills they need right now, but the long-term solution is to reduce their need to defend themselves,” she told the New York Times.