Background: Young women attending university are at substantial risk for being sexually assaulted, primarily by male acquaintances, but effective strategies to reduce this risk remain elusive.
Methods: We randomly assigned first-year female students at three universities in Canada to the Enhanced Assess, Acknowledge, Act Sexual Assault Resistance program (resistance group) or to a session providing access to brochures on sexual assault, as was common university practice (control group). The resistance program consists of four 3-hour units in which information is provided and skills are taught and practiced, with the goal of being able to assess risk from acquaintances, overcome emotional barriers in acknowledging danger, and engage in effective verbal and physical self-defense. The primary outcome was completed rape, as measured by the Sexual Experiences Survey-Short Form Victimization, during 1 year of follow-up.
Results: A total of 451 women were assigned to the resistance group and 442 women to the control group. Of the women assigned to the resistance group, 91% attended at least three of the four units. The 1-year risk of completed rape was significantly lower in the resistance group than in the control group (5.2% vs. 9.8%; relative risk reduction, 46.3% [95% confidence interval, 6.8 to 69.1]; P=0.02). The 1-year risk of attempted rape was also significantly lower in the resistance group (3.4% vs. 9.3%, P<0.001).
Conclusions: A rigorously designed and executed sexual assault resistance program was successful in decreasing the occurrence of rape, attempted rape, and other forms of victimization among first-year university women. (Funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the University of Windsor; SARE ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT01338428.).