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Targeting campus sexual assaults with preventative methods, not just post-assault prosecution

The state of New York is now poised to join California in changing the language in laws dealing with sexual assault to help reduce a high rate of sex crimes on college campuses. While tougher laws may lead to more arrests and convictions, a new study out of Canada offers stunning evidence of the effectiveness of efforts aimed more at prevention than prosecution.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that women who receive training on resisting sexual assault are much less likely to be victimized. The research deals with a specific program designed in Canada that deserves to be replicated and put into place on all college campuses.

The study shows that female students who participated in the Enhanced Assess Acknowledge Act Sexual Assault Resistance Program, or EAAA, experienced 46 percent fewer rapes and 63 percent fewer attempted rapes over a period of a year than students in the control group who did not participate in the 12-hour resistance course. Those numbers represent an extraordinary degree of effectiveness achieved by simply empowering women to be more aware of unwanted sexual advances and better prepared to resist them.

The rate of sex assault on college campuses has approached epidemic proportions, and a variety of policies are being put in place to address the problem. Congress has acted to require colleges to more vigorously patrol against such crimes and report more thoroughly on incidents. New York and California have acted to create so-called “affirmative consent” statutes to remove ambiguity over whether a victim acquiesced or resisted a sexual advance. These are important initiatives that will help bring more offenders to justice and hopefully provide a deterrent.

The EAAA approach focuses on the front end of assault, and statistics bear out a significant level of effectiveness. The program instructs women how to assess a situation and be alert to warning signs of sexual predation. It includes a four-hour self-defense component as well as lessons on communication strategies in situations where mingling may lead to unwanted advances. The lead researcher from Windsor University estimates that for every 22 women who take the course, at least one rape is avoided.

The statistical success of the program should encourage education leaders on college campuses and in high schools to consider implementing a similar curriculum. In Utah, the state’s Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice has estimated that one of three women will be a victim of a sex assault, and one out of eight will be raped. A large percentage of those cases involve college-age victims.

The problem deserves to be assigned a high priority in education and legislative circles, and programs that empower women and thereby reduce the chances of victimization deserve to be part of the conversation.