Understanding the causal factors for rape builds the most effective prevention programs

Dear Engaged Bysander: I recently heard the keynote from the annual MASOC/MATSA conference and was moved by the research Ray Knight presented. I know that sounds odd to be "moved" by research, but I was. It was a fabulous presentation and what I loved about it was that he challenged us to base our prevention programs on research evidence - more than just good ideas.

Knight argued that all prevention programs need to be focused on the causal factors of rape and not the correlates. What does that mean in plain English? If we want to be successful at stopping any social problem or disease we need to look at the factors that CAUSE that problem. As an example, he showed a great cartoon of a caveman with tons of children saying "How do we prevent pregnancy when we don't even know the cause of it?"

He then presented a model which offers a separation of the causal risk factors and the correlates to these factors. He suggests that prevention programs which focus on these causal risk factors will be more successful in the long run. The causal risk factors in his study included:
* Hypersexuality
* Callous/Unemotional
* Antisocial behavior

The correlates that he specifically studied included:
* Alcohol use
* Distorted perceptions
* Rape attitudes
* Pornography use

As he went into more detail, he offered compelling arguments that we as professionals need to read ALL of the literature. In this case there are often very distinct realms that rarely share knowledge - those who work with sex offenders and those who work on college campuses. He also demonstrated that the risk factors for adult rapists are not completely aligned with the risk factors for child molesters. In particular, this showed up in rape attitudes and distorted perceptions. So we need to be sure that we don't use the same programs with college students as we may use in a program for children and youth.

Finally, he talked about the impact of the environment on the individual - the environment and particularly toxic stress can affect the brain and even affect the genes of a child or adolescent. The "can" means that there are some individuals who are more vulnerable to the stress in their environment. So from a primary prevention point of view, addressing these stressors can also affect the ability of an individual to live safely (regardless of their proclivity to offend).

So what are the implications for all of this? Certainly we need more research on this topic. But in the meantime, our bystander programs need to be sure to address the causal risk factors for rape IF we truly want to be successful. Understanding the impact of correlates is essential, but if we only target these correlates, we will not be able to get to the root of the problem.

I would strongly suggest that you take a closer look at the article by Knight, Knight and Brown-McBride OR take the time to listen to this keynote. Both a podcast and the powerpoint from his keynote at the annual MASOC/MATSA conference is available on the MASOC website.

Let me know what you think!