Prevention on Campus - Risk Reduction is Not Enough

Many of you have likely seen this headline in the news today: College Rape Prevention Proves a Rare Success.  The New York Times article features a Canadian research study about a risk reduction and self-defense program implemented at three Canadian college campuses. The study found that the program lowered participants’ risk of being sexually assaulted.   

I like to celebrate successes, and I get excited when I see that a prevention program shows promise and reduces sexual violence. However, I was conflicted when I read this study because programming of this nature is often what so many campuses rely on to fulfill their requirement for addressing and preventing  sexual assault on their campus. While it’s not a bad thing for women to learn how to assess risk, learn self-defense, and learn how to define personal boundaries, this cannot be the only prevention available on campus.  Campuses have been employing this strategy for decades as the go-to prevention approach (the college I attended was doing this very same thing 22 years ago), and  sexual assault on campus is still a huge problem. 

What we know about best practice when it comes to prevention is that a comprehensive approach to preventing sexual violence is necessary if we want to change the culture and norms that allow sexual violence to happen. In addition to programs like the one mentioned in this study, campuses must include primary prevention strategies – efforts focused on stopping sexual assault before it even starts – that focus on potential perpetrators. Programs that are aimed at educating and engaging bystanders and others in the campus community also are key  components of a comprehensive prevention approach.  Kathleen Basile, Ph.D., provided an excellent editorial  today in the New England Journal of Medicine about the need for this comprehensive, multi-level approach to prevention. She also points out that this programming cannot begin in college – we must start much, much earlier.  I couldn’t agree more.  We can do better than this. We have to. 

What do you think? What does a comprehensive sexual violence prevention approach on campus look like to you?  Share your thoughts by commenting below.