One program proven to reduce reduce rape at universities

September 5, 2017 by Charlene Senn, The Conversation
The Enhanced Assess, Acknowledge, Act (EAAA) Sexual Assault Resistance program is the only campus education program proven to decrease sexual assault. Credit: Shutterstock

As students return to universities across Canada and the United States this month, the safety of female students is a major concern. Sexual violence occurs on all campuses and can no longer be ignored.

It's now widely recognized that universities and governments need to invest deeply in prevention. The province of Quebec, for example, recently announced a $23 million investment into campus sexual assault policies and prevention.

Less widely recognized is the importance of empowering women to talk about desire. This is a vital part of any comprehensive solution to campus sexual assault.

As a psychology professor who studies male violence against women, I have spent the last 10 years developing the Enhanced Assess, Acknowledge, Act (EAAA) Sexual Assault Resistance program. The program is designed for women in the first year of university, because that's when the risk of sexual assault is highest.

The EAAA program is the only campus education program proven to decrease sexual violence. Study results show that attending women were 46 per cent less likely to experience rape and 63 per cent less likely to experience attempted rape or other forms of sexual assault in the next year. Women who took EAAA also benefited from lower rates of sexual assault two years later.

Women also increased their ability to detect risk in men's behaviour and their confidence in asserting their rights. They learned, and became more willing to use, the most effective verbal and physical strategies for defending themselves. Importantly, these changes were accomplished while substantially decreasing women's (already relatively low) beliefs in rape myths and woman-blaming.

Sexual desire at the centre

So how does EAAA accomplish all this? In 2001, prominent sexual violence researchers Patricia Rozee and Mary Koss synthesized a decade of rape research and suggested the Assess, Acknowledge, Act (AAA) components of an effective program for women. I brought the idea to life and added an "enhancement" —emancipatory sex education. This puts women's own values and desires at the centre of the discussion.

The EAAA program focuses on sexual assault by acquaintances and adds to women's existing strength, knowledge and skills. It provides space for them to explore their sexual and relationship goals and desires. It reinforces, with knowledge and skills, their rights to seek and engage in sex they do want, to resist sex they don't want and to fight back against threats to their bodily integrity.

EAAA is never prescriptive. The goal is to increase women's options so that they are able to participate in their lives fully and without fear.

Asserting sexual needs

Most of the media coverage about the EAAA has focused on the Act unit which includes two hours of self-defence originating in a long tradition of feminist self-defence in Canada and the United States. This is definitely a critical element of EAAA and the reduction in completed sexual assaults. But that doesn't explain how EAAA reduces attempted sexual assaults even more dramatically.

The final Relationships & Sexuality unit is likely responsible. This provides women with sexual knowledge. It offers time for exploring their sexual desires and practice in communicating their interests (in, for example, a specific sexual act) and asserting their needs (for safer sex, for example). It provides a positive sexuality frame within which resistance to sexual assault is contextualized.

Greater sexual knowledge and confidence around desires and values makes coercion visible earlier. If a woman sees coercion earlier, then her options for leaving or resisting in other ways are greater.

Holding women responsible?

Some feminists have expressed the view that all interventions for women are implicitly or explicitly holding women responsible for men's behaviour.

I agree that many campaigns have done this. Women are still being told (by parents, media, posters and talks on campus) that they should restrict their behaviour in various ways. That they should limit where they go and when, how they dress and how they behave —to stay safe. This "advice" is based on myths, not evidence. These social precautions interfere with a woman's quality of life without providing actual protection, especially since most danger comes from men whom women already know.

The EAAA program for women undermines these messages. The program makes it clear that there is no risk in any situation unless there is a man present who is willing to engage in coercive behaviour. "Risk factors" (such as isolation or the presence of alcohol) are described as circumstances which provide perpetrators with certain advantages. Women brainstorm ways of undermining those advantages and come up with strategies that work for them personally.

Our research findings show that this message about perpetrator responsibility gets through; women decrease their belief in woman-blaming explanations for rape. And EAAA is beneficial for women even if they are sexually assaulted after they take it. Survivors who have taken EAAA blame themselves less than do survivors who did not receive the program.

Beyond bystander education

Universities need to invest deeply in effective prevention to reduce campus sexual assault. I, like many feminists on campus, would like universities to "tell men not to rape." Unfortunately, the research evidence shows us that the available educational programs for men do not work to accomplish their goals. Only comprehensive strategies working on multiple levels will produce the individual and campus-wide changes we are striving for. Large and sustained changes cannot be accomplished with brief interventions or during one occasion during a university orientation.

The relatively recent focus on bystander education is one prevention option endorsed in Canada, the United States and the CDC. And it's a good choice. Bystander programs have been shown to change students' attitudes toward intervening when they see a problem. More importantly, they increase students' actual intervention behaviour.

But these bystander programs weren't designed to, and do not, decrease sexual assault perpetration or victimization in the short term. Additionally, most occur in circumstances where no one is present who could intervene. So they're primarily effective in increasing interventions in "precursor" settings where risk is elevated (for example, where a man overhears his friend say that he doesn't care what it takes, he is going to "hit that" tonight) but a sexual assault has not begun.

A comprehensive solution

If a good bystander program is delivered broadly and in a sustained way on any campus, over time, we expect that a culture shift will occur. In this context, not only would social norms stop supporting a "rape culture," but perpetrators would also find it extremely difficult to act unnoticed and uninterrupted. Unfortunately we aren't there yet.

Empowering women is, therefore, another critical piece of a comprehensive solution to the problem of . EAAA empowers students with the resources they need to defend their own sexual rights. It does this within a positive sexuality frame that fits well with other sexual education efforts on campus, such as sexual consent education.

Explore further: Sexual stereotypes can lead to unhealthy sexual relationships

Related Stories

Sexual stereotypes can lead to unhealthy sexual relationships

June 12, 2017
Female college students who believe women are subservient and who endorse music media's degradation of women are more likely to be involved in an unhealthy sexual relationship, according to research from WSU's Murrow Center ...

Sexual assault victimization disproportionately affects certain minority college students

March 17, 2017
Students who perceive that their college campus is more inclusive and welcoming of sexual- and gender-minority people have lower odds of being victims of sexual assault, according to a study led by the University of Pittsburgh ...

Medical conditions are more common in women who are sexually abused

May 4, 2016
Researchers have found that a variety of conditions are more common in women before and after sexual assault.

Study identifies risk factors for sexual assault, including age and alcohol consumption

October 15, 2014
Risk factors for sexual assault, including young age and alcohol consumption, must be addressed when considering preventative strategies, suggests a new study, published today (15 October) in BJOG: An International Journal ...

Study finds high prevalence of incapacitated rape among college women

November 18, 2015
Some 15 percent of women are raped while incapacitated from alcohol or other drug use during their freshman year at college, according to new research.

Recommended for you

Researchers see popular herbicide affecting health across generations

September 20, 2017
First, the good news. Washington State University researchers have found that a rat exposed to a popular herbicide while in the womb developed no diseases and showed no apparent health effects aside from lower weight.

Higher levels of fluoride in pregnant woman linked to lower intelligence in their children

September 20, 2017
Fluoride in the urine of pregnant women shows a correlation with lower measures of intelligence in their children, according to University of Toronto researchers who conducted the first study of its kind and size to examine ...

One e-cigarette with nicotine leads to adrenaline changes in nonsmokers' hearts

September 20, 2017
A new UCLA study found that healthy nonsmokers experienced increased adrenaline levels in their heart after one electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) with nicotine but there were no increased adrenaline levels when the study ...

India has avoided 1 million child deaths since 2005, new study concludes

September 19, 2017
India has avoided about 1 million deaths of children under age five since 2005, driven by significant reductions in mortality from pneumonia, diarrhea, tetanus and measles, according to new research published today.

Gulf spill oil dispersants associated with health symptoms in cleanup workers

September 19, 2017
Workers who were likely exposed to dispersants while cleaning up the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill experienced a range of health symptoms including cough and wheeze, and skin and eye irritation, according to scientists ...

Study suggests link between youth football and later-life emotional, behavioral impairment

September 19, 2017
A new study has found an association between participation in youth tackle football before age 12 and impaired mood and behavior later in life. The study appears in Nature's Translational Psychiatry.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.