A program that trained first-year female college students to avoid rape substantially lowered their risk of being sexually assaulted. The New York Times called it “a rare success against a problem that has been resistant to many prevention efforts.” Sexual violence is a serious hazard on college campuses. By some estimates, one in five female students are assaulted. Women tend to be at the greatest risk during their first year on campus. After several highly publicized campus rapes, the White House last spring directed colleges to address sexual assault.
In a randomized trial published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, first-year students at three Canadian campuses attended sessions on assessing risk, learning self-defense and defining personal sexual boundaries. The students were surveyed a year after they completed the intervention. The risk of rape for 451 women randomly assigned to the program was about 5 percent, compared with nearly 10 percent among 442 women in a control group who were given brochures and a brief information session. “Only 22 women would need to take the program in order to prevent one additional rape from occurring within one year,” the authors said. “It's an important, rigorous study that shows that resistance and self-defense training needs to be part of college sexual assault prevention,” said criminologist Sarah Ullman of the University of Illinois at Chicago, who was not involved in the research.