The Evaluation of a Sexual Assault Risk Reduction Program: A Multisite Investigation
Christine A. Gidycz, Steven Jay Lynn, Cindy L. Rich, Nichole L. Marioni, Catherine Loh, Lisa Marmelstein Blackwell, Jane Stafford, Rachel Fite, Joanna Pashdag

Published: Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, V. 69, 6, 2001, 1073-1078

What is the purpose and scope of this study?
Sexual assault prevention programs are federally mandated on college and university campuses, but such programs are rarely evaluated, and when they are, their effectiveness is not uniform. Researchers who have been involved in designing sexual assault prevention programs conducted the current study. Their purpose was twofold: to improve an existing sexual assault prevention program, and to evaluate the improved program's effectiveness in preventing sexual assault among participants during a 6-month period after the program.

How was the study conducted?
Improving the sexual assault prevention program
The existing sexual assault prevention program used a live presentation/discussion format that included role-plays and protective behavior modeling. It explored attitudes towards sexual assault and sexual assault victims, ways to reduce personal risk, how to get help after an assault and victimization in general. In the improved program, videotaped presentations were added. After a presenter shared sexual assault statistics with the audience, two videotapes were shown. One discussed the effects of sexual assault, highlighting risk factors, by interviewing college students in small and large groups. The second depicted a date-sexual assault scenario. The authors of the study believed that the videotaped format would improve learning (i.e., "central processing" of the material) in several ways: Handouts were given at the conclusion of the 3-hour program.

Study participants
Study participants consisted of 762 female college students enrolled in introductory psychology at two universities. This group was representative of the female student populations at both universities and of the population of women at highest risk for sexual assault. Participants were randomly assigned to either the experimental group (i.e., the sexual assault prevention program) or a control group (no program). Outcome measures included the Sexual Assault Empathy Survey, The Dating Behavior Survey, part of the Sexual Communication Survey, and the Sexual Experiences Survey. These data were collected three times: before the sexual assault prevention presentation, and at 2 and 6 months after the presentation.

What did the study find?
Results of this study were mixed and consistent with findings reported in other studies regarding the effectiveness of sexual assault prevention programs.

Overall effectiveness in preventing sexual assault
  1. At the 2-month follow-up, there was no difference in sexual assault between participants who received the sexual assault prevention program and those who did not.
  2. Program participants who reported moderate sexual victimization at the 2-month follow-up reported significantly less sexual victimization at the 6-month follow-up than their counterparts in the control group.
  3. Program participants who rated the program positively (e.g., helpful, interesting) had lower odds for being victimized during the course of the follow-up period.
Victimization history and risk for being sexually assaulted
  1. A history of adolescent sexual victimization predicted victimization during the study regardless of participation in the sexual assault prevention program.
Attitudes towards sexual assault victims
  1. Severe sexual victimization during the course of the study decreased program participants' empathy towards sexual assault victims. That is, women who had participated in the sexual assault prevention program but nonetheless were severely victimized reported less compassion for such victims by study's end.
  2. Sexual assault prevention program participants who were not, or only moderately, victimized during the course of the study reported more empathy for sexual assault victims at the end of the study.
  3. Sexual victimization during the course of the study appeared to improve feelings of empathy among women in the control group who did not see the sexual assault prevention program.
What do these findings say about the impact of rape prevention programs and how to improve their effectiveness?
The program presented in this study did not absolutely, immediately reduce participants' risk for or prevent sexual assault. The program least helped women with a history of adolescent sexual victimization. Differences at the 6 month follow-up suggest that the rape prevention program helped some women prevent a second sexual assault and helped others avoid involvement in situations that might have resulted in a more violent, subsequent assault. Suggestions for further improving rape prevention programs include making the material even more interesting, captivating and relevant to its audience, and using presenters who are perceived as 'helpful and interested" by the audience.

Reviewed by Priscilla Schulz, LCSW
Center for Trauma Recovery
University of Missouri - St. Louis
January 31, 2002

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