By Eliza Gray
June 11, 2015

A training program designed to teach first-year college women how to resist sexual assault showed substantial reduction in risk of completed rape during their first year of school, a new study conducted at three Canadian universities showed.

For college women, the risk of sexual assault is highest during the first two years. The results of the study suggest that for every 22 women who are educated in the training program, one rape would be prevented in the year after the students participate.

The study, published by the New England Journal of Medicine, was a randomized controlled trial conducted at three Canadian universities. The researchers recruited first-year female students, aged 17-24, by emailing and calling women who were registered for psychology courses and posting flyers around campus.

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A randomly selected control group of 442 women were assigned to a session where they were given access to brochures on sexual assault, a standard university practice. The other 451 women were assigned to receive a training program that included four three-hour sessions, in small groups of 23 or less, teaching the women to “assess risk from acquaintances, overcome emotional barriers in acknowledging danger, and engage in effective verbal and physical self defense.”

The researchers followed up with the women after six months, then a year. At the one-year mark, the women who received the resistance training were less likely to have fallen victim to completed rape than the control group, with 5.2% self-reporting victimization vs. 9.8% in the control group. The risk reduction was even greater for attempted rape, with a ratio of 3.4% in the group who got the training, compared with 9.3% in the group who did not.

The study acknowledged some limitations. A disproportionate number of women with prior victimization participated in study, a group that is at higher risk for recurrence of sexual assault; and the study required self-reporting, which can introduce bias. The study’s authors also pointed out that more work needs to be done to identify effective interventions to change male behavior, and that universities might not have the resources to ensure full participation in such a comprehensive training program.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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