How to prevent being raped series (6 of 10) - Male prevention programs for rape

Trauma, abuse and bereavement / Category / Emile Du Toit / September 28th 2014

This 6th blog in the series of 10 discusses male prevention programs for rape.  This week’s article is particularly research based as we take a critical look at the studies ‘demonstrating’ that rape prevention programs for men are a success. We examine the methodologies and designs of these studies in through a particularly thorough meta-analysis that was conducted. We conclude with a brief review of what this tells us about how to improve rape prevention programs.

Male prevention programs for rape.

When I examine my own beliefs and attitudes towards women I find them distinctly different to what is clearly our societal norm. But then I am unashamedly a feminist. It does make me wonder why my own beliefs ascribe equal status to women? Why do I see gender roles so differently? Probably I could point to various things; growing up with a strong, single mother, and modelling some of her beliefs, achieving a high level of education, or not growing up in extreme poverty or within a culture where women are automatically seen as unequal.

As a psychologist I can certainly understand why certain men and women have such prejudiced beliefs, and even practice such bigoted and antisocial behaviours. There is a difference however between understanding and justification. It is easier to justify prejudice as it is something that grows with us as we get taller, and we cannot be held entirely responsible for our thoughts and beliefs. They often steal uninvited into our heads like intruders in the night. That said, many of us are made aware of our prejudices and how others feel judged and suffer through them. Surely it is our duty to take ownership of this and attend workshops to make the necessary changes?

However, we always have control of our behaviours, and thus there is no justification for any form of sexual coercion or assault. The road to hell is paved with justifications!

Changing men’s attitudes towards rape

Rape-supportive attitudes are held by many in society. Programs have been shown in some instances to increase knowledge about rape and change people’s attitudes so that they are less likely to blame victims. 1.  Such outcomes have sometimes been considered as vital steps decreasing completed rape. 1. 4.  However, despite prevention programs changing knowledge and attitudes in the short term, there is sadly actually very little to no current evidence that these attitudes remain changed over long periods of time.  

Equally, changing of prejudiced attitudes and beliefs has not necessarily been shown to lead to less rape 1. 2. 3. 6.

So how come a fair many rape prevention studies for men report such positive effect sizes and significant changes?  Let us put on our research hat today and examine potential problems with many of these studies, and critically analyse their results. I believe that it is essential for rape prevention programs that their success rates are correctly recorded, as well as what research results actually show them to be successful at. I think too often people are desperate for the programs to be successful to guarantee research grants etc. and to have ‘effective’ programs running on their campus’s that they manage - consciously or unconsciously -  to make the data fit the marketing campaign.

The paradox of claiming exaggerated success rates with male prevention programs is that it will actually lead to poorer programs and thus lower actual success rates.

Today’s blog is slightly different in that we get to put on our researcher hats and have a look at the success of programs attempting to change men’s attitudes and behaviours towards women.

A great meta-analytic study on 59 rape prevention programs. 5.

What I particularly like about this meta-analysis is that it looked not only at any benefits from these programs, but also scored them according to the quality of the research itself (i.e. how sound the research design and methodology actually were). If this sounds complex, think of it in terms of the study clearly defining what it is trying to measure, which is methodologically sound, where there are logical leaps from the data results to the conclusions reached.

I am going to pick out some of the findings from this meta-analysis that I feel are illustrative of both the many flaws in some of these studies as well as the more reasonable understanding of the potential flaws of the studies and the conclusions that we can reach from them: 5.   

Basic information on the rape prevention studies: 5.   

  • 64% included both male and female participants.
  • The samples were mostly of students (70% college, 24% scholars and the rest community).
  • Topics covered most thoroughly in order of frequency were (1) rape myths (2) acquaintance/date rape information (3) statistics on rape, and (4) rape prevention skills (e.g., risk reduction, protective skills).
  • 58% solely measured changes in knowledge or attitude, 26% attitudes and behaviours and 2% behaviours.
  • Most follow-up periods were short.

 

Flaws of the rape prevention programs: 5.

  • The majority of the programs were not constructed from an actual theory on rape prevention.
  • Most studies only measured changes in rape myths and rape supportive attitudes, as opposed to actual changes in sexually violent behaviour.
  • The quality of the studies was generally low and varied markedly, ranging from 32% to 90%.
  • Only 14% of showed exclusively demonstrating positive results (i.e. all results measured were positive). All of these studies used knowledge/attitude as the sole outcome measure (so did not measure decrease in rape behaviour). Of the rest 80% were categorized as demonstrating mixed results (both + and - or 0), and 6% showed no effect from the rape prevention program.
  • 91% of the more methodologically sound studies (the ones using a randomized comparison group design) reported mixed results, while only 9% showed positive results. The less methodologically sound studies (using a non-equivalent comparison group and thus not really comparable) had a significantly higher ‘success’ rates.
  • 21% of studies with a follow-up period of less than 1 month had an overall positive intervention effect. Rather critically not a single study with a follow-up period of greater than 4 months had a positive intervention effect.
  • All of the studies that showed no positive results were shown to be quality studies (i.e. obtained high quality scores).
  • Sadly, not a single study with high quality scores (experiment design and methodology) had results demonstrating overall positive change in attitudes or behaviours from the rape prevention programs.  

 

What needs to change in order to run more effective male rape prevention programs?

About this time you are probably thinking ‘Well thanks, Emile for ruining my day!’ Now that I have washed the glossy sheen off the current state of male rape prevention programs, let me attempt to make a few constructive comments:

  • Not all rape prevention programs can be universal. Some may well be more effective if they target specific groups such as particular personality types, cultural or religious groups, or indeed those who already have a history of sexual violence.
  • Men’s groups (and indeed women only ones) tend to be more effective than mixed ones as people can open up more.
  • Programs really need to start becoming theory-based. This will make them more comprehensive, easier to replicate and easier to improve over time.
  • Much longer follow-up periods are necessary to determine whether shifts in attitude and/or behaviour are maintained.
  • Most evaluations focus on knowledge and attitudes as the primary measure of change. But this focus is problematic. 5. Attitudes and knowledge are more susceptible behavioural measures to socially desirable responding. Many students may also not be willing to admit to bigoted or sexually violent attitudes, particularly after just having been made aware of how despicable they are. The other problem is that attitudinal change may not necessarily result in changes in behavior. Just because someone’s scores on an attitude or rape myth questionnaire are lowered doesn’t necessarily mean that this translates into them changing their actual rape behaviour.

 

This series How to prevent being raped will continue next week when we take our researcher hats off for part 7 of 10: Fighting back – avoiding completed rape.

References

  1. Anderson, L. A., & Whiston, S. C. (2005). Sexual assault education programs: A meta-analytic examination of their effectiveness. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 29, 374-388.
  2. Brecklin, L. R., & Forde, D. R. (2001). A meta-analysis of rape education programs. Violence and Victims, 16, 303-321.
  3. Flores, S. A., & Hartlaub, M. G. (1998). Reducing rape myth acceptance in male college students: A meta-analysis of intervention studies. Journal of College Student Development, 39, 438-448.
  4. Lonsway, K. A. (1996). Preventing acquaintance rape through education: What do we know? Psychology of Women Quarterly, 20, 229-265.
  5. Morrison, Shannon, Jennifer Hardison, Anita Mathew, and Joyce O'Neil. EVIDENCE-BASED REVIEW OF RAPE AND SEXUAL ASSAULT PREVENTIVE INTERVENTION PROGRAMS IN THE UNITED STATES, 1990-2003. ICPSR04453-v1. Research Triangle Park, NC: RTI International [producer], 2004. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2006-12-18. doi:10.3886/ICPSR04453.v1
  6. Sochting, I., Fairbrother, N., & Koch,W. J. (2004). Sexual assault of women: Prevention efforts and risk factors. Violence Against Women, 10, 73-93.

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