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Rape Prevention and Risk Reduction: Review of the Research Literature for Practitioners

Material Type
January, 2009

Only a small percentage of rape education programs are designed specifically for men, but review of this limited body of work suggests three primary conclusions. First, some programs have demonstrated success in changing men's beliefs and attitudes regarding rape. Second, some programs have also reduced men's self-reported likelihood to rape. Third, there is evidence to suggest that some prevention programs might reduce men's actual sexual aggression. Such findings are certainly promising, and this remains one of the most important research directions in this field. However, there are unique issues that must be considered when reviewing this body of research.

A number of educational interventions have also been designed for audiences of women only. At this point, there is a rather persuasive body of evidence to suggest that women's participation in risk reduction programs (including self-defense training) decreases their likelihood of being sexually assaulted in the future. Research also documents other positive outcomes resulting from resistance training for women, including increased assertiveness, improved self-esteem, decreased anxiety, increased sense of perceived control, decreased fear of sexual assault, enhanced self-efficacy, improved physical competence/skills in self-defense, decreased avoidance behaviors (restricting activities such as walking alone), and increased participatory behaviors (behaviors demonstrating freedom of action). Because women with assault histories are at increased risk to be sexually assaulted in the future, they merit special consideration in the design of risk reduction programs.

Most rape education programs are actually designed for mixed-gender audiences, however, and the primary conclusion from evaluation research is that such programs can be effective in changing rape-supportive beliefs and/or attitudes over the short-term (several months to a year), but they have not generally been successful in changing beliefs and attitudes over the long-term. The research literature also offers suggestions regarding which specific components of educational programs are associated with positive changes. For example, educational programs that are longer appear to have more significant impact than shorter ones, as well as those facilitated by professionals and those that involve repeated exposure to programming. However, perhaps the most robust conclusion in this area is that single-gender programs are more effective than mixed-sex ones. In fact, many experts have suggested that it violates common sense to provide sexual assault education to mixed-gender audiences, given the very different relation of men and women to the issue.

This review thus provides suggestions for practitioners to design, implement, and evaluate rape prevention and risk reduction programs. These include designing a comprehensive prevention strategy with intervention at various levels of influence and careful consideration of program goals and methods for evaluating positive impact.

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