The New York Times reports that a study of a rape prevention program piloted on 3 Canadian colleges showed highly favorable results- the incidence of rape among female college freshmen who took the course was 50% less than those who didn’t. The program had three components:
- assessing risk
- learning self-defense techniques, and
- assessing personal boundaries.
It’s inevitable; the program has its critics. Some fault the program for focusing on those who may be victims rather than getting to the root cause of sexual violence- individuals choosing to commit the assaults. I don’t disagree, but I’m loathe to wait for a perfect world before giving a person knowledge to protect (him)herself. Yes, we need to address the root causes of sexual violence. And we need to give bystanders awareness, skills, and investment in stepping in when they see a situation. But it’s equally important to have discussions with college women- and men- so they can consider how their actions can detract from or enhance their safety. Is it right that a young women who is intoxicated is at increased risk of rape? No… but it’s a reality. Knowing this information, she can make different choices about limiting the number of drinks… or may implement safety strategies before a night on the town. And knowing the risks, friends may also more actively watch out for a friend who has had a few too many.
What really struck me about the study was the verifiable impact. According to one of the study’s authors, “Only 22 women would need to take the course to prevent one rape from happening.” That’s a powerful outcome from a 12 hour prevention program. In New York State, scores of rape crisis agencies lost funding for prevention activities last year when the NYS Department of Heath unexpectedly changed their funding strategy. For many programs, Wellspring included, the DOH funds had been the sole source of funds supporting prevention activities. Before these funding cuts more than 4,000 participants attended Wellspring’s prevention programs each year. We know the programs make a difference, because students tell us they’ve changed behaviors we know increase risk of sexual violence, but we need more research like this into cost-effective prevention strategies to guide and substantiate our impact.