This 10th blog in this series of 10 on how to prevent being raped discusses what is still needed on the path toward a comprehensive rape prevention program. We begin by running through the varied goals of rape prevention programs and take a look at why they need to be more comprehensive in design. We examine the need for women to practise the skills they learn in order for them to become automatic and implementable in any situation. We then examine the effectiveness of the 4 major areas of rape prevention, and consider why these programs might be much more effective if they were part of a greater arsenal in the war against rape. We conclude with the areas that women need to have thoroughly covered in order to truly minimise their chances of being raped.
Towards a comprehensive rape prevention program
Varying goals of rape prevention programs
Rape prevention programs tend to differ substantially from each other. However, if we were to look at them as a whole they tend to contain modules constructed to: 14.
- reduce attitudes supporting rape 2. 12. 13. 19. 20.
- increase knowledge about sexual violence 2. 12. 13. 19. 20.
- build empathy for survivors of sexual assault 2. 12. 13. 19. 20.
- increase resistance strategies and skills, 15. 16. 17. 18.
- and increase the likelihood that bystanders will intervene in potentially abusive or violent situations. 3. 4. 5. 10.
Rape prevention programs need to be more comprehensive in design
One of the reasons for the relative ineffectiveness of rape prevention programs 8. 9. 18. 22. is that they are not comprehensive enough. It is my opinion that in order for programs to be truly effective they need to cover all the major factors that put someone at risk of completed rape. Otherwise the gaps in certain important areas undermine the strengths learned in others.
For example how is a particular woman supposed to learn to effectively resist rape based on aggressive self-defence if she is worried about being judged or abandoned, and if she doubts her right to defend herself in the first place?
Being prepared: the ability to act automatically in potential rape situations
It occurs to me that one of the factors that truly empowers action in traumatic situations is automatic behaviour. This implies having thought through various rape scenarios already and reached conclusions on how you will act. In any kind of traumatic assault where the victim is caught unawares the assailant begins with the upper hand. They have chosen the territory and the timing of the assault. They are mentally prepared for it and have a plan on how they are going to execute their crime.
In most trauma related situations victims are overcome with high levels of physiological stress and tend to go in to flight, fight or freeze mode. This sudden surge in adrenalin and the resultant feelings makes it hard for people to think clearly and act clinically towards their goal.
Added to this many rape victims do not believe that they necessarily have the right to refuse and fight back and are filled with guilt and shame (particularly in the case of acquaintance rape). They are often still worrying about what various people will think, and whether they will get more hurt! No wonder why so many do not forcefully resist!
Special Forces training
The way that Special Forces achieve the ability to react quickly is by beginning with clear protocols as to when and where they are allowed to and required to open fire or return fire. This is followed by endless, mind numbing rote drills of reaction options and immediate response. They are taught to always be aware of their surroundings and also to be able to shift their physiological and cognitive system to one honed to cope with sudden high-stress situations.
Over time they do not need to focus as much on awareness and how to respond – it has become automatic.
The ability to be able to automatically monitor ones environment and also change one’s default trauma response is really helpful in any type of trauma related self-defence.
Programs also need to take in to account unique reservations held by particular women and allow for group dialogues on these issues. This will help women to feel a part of a strong social identity with the underlying beliefs and values that provide support for effective resistance.
Women who have been victimized before, particularly those who have suffered childhood sexual abuse (complex trauma) or continuous traumatization need to have access to individual therapy or counselling. They are at far higher risk of being raped or sexually assaulted.
Effectiveness of the 4 modules of rape reduction programs. 14.
a. Risk reduction/ Self-defence programs
The central goal of self-defence programs is to reduce the incidence of sexual assault victimization experienced by women. 16. 17. 18. Intermediate goals that are designed to amplify the primary goal of decreased victimization include increased assertiveness and ability to resist assailants, increased clarity in sexual communication, decreased shame and self-blame, and increased knowledge of sexual assault dynamics and statistics. 17.
These programs has been modified over time 15. 16. 17. 18. 22. and there has been some success with intermediate goals. However, the program has yet to be effectively shown to achieve the primary goal of reducing sexual assault. 16. 17. 22..
b. Empathy building programs
Empathy-based programs are designed to help women, and particularly men to understand sexual violence. This helps people to provide more compassionate responses to disclosures, and decreases the likelihood of sexual assault. Results so far have not been emphatic. In a study targeting men in a fraternity there were improvements in both attitude and sexually coercive behaviour, both post-program and in a follow-up. 13. However, this study like so many others has been criticised due to study design and methodological issues. 25. This appears to the Achilles heel of rape prevention studies that attempt to demonstrate actual behavioural change.
c. Rape awareness/attitude change programming
These programs are based on the assumption that changing beliefs and attitudes about sexual violence will eventually lead to a decrease in sexual assaults. 2. 20. As mentioned previously in this series there have been some thorough meta-analyses conducted on these awareness programs. 6. 7. 11. 11. 20. 21. 26. These programs have sometimes been effective in changing attitudes and beliefs over the short term. However, longer term attitudinal change has proven elusive.
Equally, any attitudinal changes have not translated into a decrease in actual coercive or sexually assaultive behaviour!
Common elements that appear to improve rape prevention programs include:
- Professional and well-trained facilitation 26
- Targeting of single-gender groups 21. 26.
- Multiple exposures throughout a student’s tenure at college 26.
- Longer and more frequent exposures to interventions. Additional booster sessions look like they might also help to combat the poor retention of attitude change over time
- It would also be helpful if rape prevention programs could follow a more theory based approach 14.
d. Bystander models
Bystander models appear to work well in male, female and mixed groups. They appear to show some promise in getting people to intervene in rape situations, but more research is necessary.
Rape prevention programs should only be one tool in the war on rape
In synthesis: Risk reduction/resistance strategy models for women and empathy-based programs for men have some degree of effectiveness in increasing knowledge and positively changing attitudes over the short term. However, they have not so far resulted in significant long-term changes in knowledge and attitudes, or any real change in sexually coercive or assaultive behaviour. 2. 7. 14. 24.
This is partly because these programs cannot function in isolation. Programs fighting the war against rape in our society should include all of the following: 14.
- Rape prevention education (which is focused on in this blog), but also
- Social norms campaigns (e.g. marketing campaigns normalizing positive gender behavior)
- Alcohol and drug abuse/dependence education 1.
- Clear and enforceable consent-based sexual assault policies
- Organizational practices that deter sexual harassment
- And at colleges there need to be clearly stated and enforceable student judicial affairs policies and protocols that are fair and supportive of the victim.
Areas that you need to cover to prevent completed rape:
- Identify your unique high risk situations and adopt an overarching strategy for them. This includes making proactive decisions on places or people you are going to avoid as well as deciding on safety factors and strategies for high risk situations that you aren’t going to avoid.
- Engage with your own psychosocial beliefs that make you vulnerable to completed rape. This might include chatting to friends and loved ones, completing a program, joining a women’s group or merely working through your beliefs in your own head. If you have a history of victimization then I suggest that you see a psychologist or trauma counsellor.
- Attend a self-defence course specifically designed for women wanting to fight back effectively against rapists.
- Practice the moves you learn on an on-going basis and attend refresher courses every now and then. Allow your ability to monitor situations and react assertively or offensively as required to become automatic.
- Arm yourself with the appropriate weapons for your personality, lifestyle and situation, and become proficient with these weapons.
Conclusion of research series on how to prevent being raped
The reality of life as an earthling is that terrible acts are committed by many of the human beings that we share this planet with. They shouldn’t be but they are. Rape prevention programs are doing their best to help change men’s bigoted beliefs and persuade bystanders to get involved to prevent these rapes from occurring. But this is not currently sufficient to protect you. This much all research agrees on! So please take the time to go through this blog series on how to prevent being raped and allow it to sink in. Then get started on proactively protecting yourself as best you can. Good luck!
This is the end of this 10 part series on how to prevent being raped. I hope it was helpful to you!
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