The New England Journal of Medicine, June 11, 2015
Authors: Charlene Y. Senn and others
Recent studies in the US and Canada have shown that young women attending university face a substantial risk of being sexually assaulted. The incidence of sexual assault is estimated to be between 20% and 25% over a period of four years and to be highest during the first two years.
The results of a new trial, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, shows that a “rigorously designed and executed sexual assault resistance program was successful in substantially reducing the occurrence of sexual assaults among first-year female university students, including those at higher risk because of previous rape victimization.”
For the trial, 893 women from three Canadian universities were chosen. While 442 women were assigned to the control group and were given brochures on sexual assault — the kind that’s commonly given out on campuses — 451 women were assigned to the resistance group and attended one of the 48 four-unit resistance sessions that involved information-providing games, mini-lectures, facilitated discussion, and application and practice activities, including self-defence programmes.
After the trial, the researchers followed up with their subjects for 12 months and classified their experiences on campuses into one of five sexual victimisation categories: completed rape, attempted rape, coercion, attempted coercion, or nonconsensual sexual contact.
Completed rape (oral, vaginal, or anal penetration) and nonconsensual sexual contact (nonpenetrative) were defined as nonconsensual sexual acts in which the perpetrator used threats, force, or drug or alcohol incapacitation. Coercion was considered to have occurred when perpetrators used pressure or manipulation (e.g., “threatening to end the relationship” or “continually verbally pressuring me”) to induce compliance in nonconsensual penetrative sexual acts. Attempted rape and attempted coercion were occasions in which the perpetrator tried to engage in the behavior but was not successful. For completed and attempted rapes, participants recorded the dates of occurrence.
At the end of the trial, the researchers found that those in the resistance group, who were taught tactics to prevent sexual assaults, were less likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than their peers in the controlled group who received standard brochures — 23 ‘completed rapes’ in the resistance group and 42 among those who received brochures.
“The 1-year risk of completed rape was significantly lower in the resistance group than in the control group… indicating that only 22 women would need to take the program in order to prevent one additional rape from occurring within 1 year after participation,” says the report.
The researchers, however, admit to a “few limitations” in the trial.
“…The outcomes (are) self-reported and… can introduce bias… Women in the resistance group might have underreported sexual assaults (perhaps believing that they should have been able to resist them); however, it is also possible that reporting of outcomes would be increased in women sensitized to sexual assault by the resistance training,” the report says.