Researchers Just Found A Way To Reduce Sexual Assault on Campuses

July 25th 2015

trial and study published in the New England Journal of Medicine conducted on the campuses of three Canadian colleges was able to prove a significant reduction in attempted and completed sexual assaults on those campuses. This is news considering that women on college campuses face a substantial risk of sexual assault.

An estimated one in five female students are sexually assaulted while attending college. In response to this, President Barack Obama has pressured colleges and universities to take action and do more to prevent and respond to sexual assault; however, many colleges have historically done little to address the issue or keep students safe. Not all colleges will expel suspected rapists, in fact, schools permanently expel only 10 to 25 percent of students who are found “responsible” for sexual assault. The findings from the study can offer colleges some concrete ways to follow the government's mandate that universities must actively work to prevent sexual assault.


An in-depth approach

The study included only women, dividing them into two groups of women ages 17 to 24. A control group was given brochures, and the typical sexual assault prevention training available at most colleges. The "resistance" group studied the training to determine its efficacy. The resistance approach was multifaceted and included four, three-hour long sessions that offered both information and allowed the students to role-play and practice what they were learning.

  • Risk assessment and reduction: Students were given information on assessing the risk of violence and how to reduce the risk of assault by male acquaintances by doing things such as utilizing the buddy system, and keeping a careful eye on drinks to make sure they are not drugged. It is worth noting that 90 percent of campus sexual assault involve alcohol abuse.
  • Overcoming Emotional Barriers: Students practiced resisting coercion, and learned about the emotional barriers to fighting off a potential predator the victims knows well. Most sexual assaults are committed by a friend, acquaintance, or someone in a relationship with the victim. Traditional self-defense training can be difficult for women to implement against someone close.
  • Self-defense training: Students practiced fighting off both stranger, and acquaintance attackers, and attackers who are larger than than the women.
  • Sexuality and Relationships: Students discussed healthy sexuality and relationships. They defined their boundaries for themselves and developed strategies for communicating them in more difficult situations.

With this approach, researchers were able to produce an apparent reduction in completed sexual assaults, attempted rape, and even attempted coercion, and nonconsensual sexual contact. The risk of sexual assault was reduced to 5 percent for students who participated in the program. The students in the control group had a risk of 10 percent. For every 22 women who participate in the program, there was one less rape on campus that year. The risk of attempted rape was lowered to 3.4 percent for students completed in the program (9.3 for the control group). The success is attributed to the training empowering women to recognize the early stages of violent behavior, and giving them the tools and the practice of interrupting that behavior.


The study does have one major shortcoming: it focuses on the victims of the crime, not the perpetrator. Obviously, only the perpetrator of a crime can completely stop it from happening. With training on how to recognize the warning signs before a crime happens, women are able to reduce their risk of facing sexual assault, but the ultimate responsibilities stands with the people who are committing the crime.

The trial and study is a first step, but a comprehensive approach would include training for people of all genders. Some men may need training in order to become aware that aggressive "boys will be boys" type behavior like sexual coercion, or engaging in sexual activity with someone who is intoxicated, are actually sexual assault. And even people who would never be aggressive themselves can benefit from bystander intervention training so that it is not just women, or potential victims, who are on the lookout for "red flag" behavior. If everyone on a college campus was trained in how to recognize the type of behavior that often leads to sexual assault, it would be much harder for repeat offenders to keep preying on college students.

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