Effectiveness of a Social Change Approach to Sexual Assault Prevention

By Edwards, Keith E. | College Student Affairs Journal, January 1, 2009 | Go to article overview
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Effectiveness of a Social Change Approach to Sexual Assault Prevention


Edwards, Keith E., College Student Affairs Journal


The author examined the impact on resident assistants of a social change approach to sexual assault prevention. The interactive multi-media program focused on engaging men on sexual assault prevention, accurately defining rape for college men and women, identifying aspects of the rape culture in sodety and on-campus, and empowering college students to confront the rape culture in an effort to end rape. Results of the study indicate that the program decreased participants' acceptance of rape myths and increased their understanding of rape definitions in both the immediate posttest and 14-week follow-up compared to the pre-test.

Despite significant attention to sexual assault prevention in higher education, sadly there is Uttie evidence of progress over the past 20 years. In a study of 6,519 coUege students on 32 different campuses pubUshed in 1987, one in four coUege women reported being the victim of rape or attempted rape since age 14 (Koss, Gidycz, & Wisniewski). Of these women, 84% were assaulted by a man they knew. In 2000, die U.S. Department of Justice found that, during a typical woman's coUege career, the rates of sexual assault "might climb to between onefifth and one-quarter" (Fischer, Cullen, & Turner, 2000, p 10).

To address this pervasive issue, coUeges and universities have sought effective educational programs to address rape and sexual assault on campus. It is important to acknowledge that sexual assault occurs not just where men are the perpetrators and women are the victims or survivors, but also between individuals of die same gender, where women are the perpetrators and men are the victims or survivors, and across a spectrum of gender. However, because men are the perpetrators and women are the victims or survivors in 99% of reported sexual assaults on campus most prevention efforts focus on addressing this type of sexual assaults as does the Uterature on rates of sexual violence and effectiveness of prevention programs (Greenfeld, 1997).These educational programs have generally been organized into two categories, reactive riskreduction approaches and proactive rape prevention approaches (Brecklin & Forde, 2001).

Risk-reduction programs encourage women to employ strategies that help them avoid situations with a high risk of sexual assault or increase their chances of escape from the assault (Yeater & O'Donohue, 1999). These risk-reduction interventions have remained the most common form of sexual assault education on coUege campuses (O'Donohue, Yeater, & Fanetti, 2003), despite significant critiques. Lonsway (1996) explained, "rape deterrence strategies can therefore only protect indimdual women (albeit with no guarantees), but can never reduce the vulnerabiHty of women as a group" (ItaHcs in original, p. 232). When risk reduction programs are the only sexual assault education programming on campus, they can send a message that places the responsibihty of preventing rape on potential victims rather than the perpetrator and can be damaging to survivors (Yeater & O'Donohue, 1999).

A proactive prevention approach to sexual assault education focuses on reaching potential perpetrators and the environmental factors supporting sexual assault and rape (Berkowitz, 2004). Over the past 10-15 years, a number of prevention programs have emerged that are aimed direcdy at engaging men on issues of sexual violence (Berkowitz, 1994; Davis, 2000; Foubert & Marriott, 1996; Funk, 1993; Kate, 1995; Kilmartin, 2001; Kivel, 1992; Men Can Stop Rape, 2002). Common proactive prevention approaches include encouraging empathy for victims, individual change, bystander interventions, re-sociaHzation experiences, and social norms marketing (Berkowitz, 2004).

Despite an increase in the number of proactive prevention approaches to sexual assault education on college campuses, few of these programs have demonstrated an abiHty to have a long-term impact beyond an immediate posttest on the participants (Schewe, 2002).

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