Rape Resistance & Rape Prevention

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What is the role of teaching rape-resistance skills in rape prevention?

In a new article Can virtual reality increase the realism of role plays used to teach college women sexual coercion and rape-resistance skills? appearing in the journal Behavior Therapy, the researchers compare the use of virtual reality and role plays.  I will leave the question of the potential value of the use of virtual reality to the experts on rape prevention self defense (which I am not.)

However, the role of teaching rape-resistance skills in rape prevention is an important one. Over the last 30 years, feminist self defense has been and remains an important component of efforts to prevent rape.  Research, such as Sarah Ullman’s work, has looked at the effectiveness of rape resistance.

There are some concerns about relying only on rape-resistance as a prevention strategy. Indeed the authors of the article shared the concern:

Suggesting that role plays be used to train young women in sexual coercion and rape resistance should not be interpreted to imply that women are responsible for sexual attacks or for their prevention…. In addition, using role plays is not being suggested as a prevention strategy in and of itself, but rather as a component of a potentially effective prevention program.

In Melissa McEwan’s excellent blog on Rape Culture she states

Rape culture is tasking victims with the burden of rape prevention. Rape culture is encouraging women to take self-defense as though that is the only solution required to preventing rape. Rape culture is admonishing women to “learn common sense” or “be more responsible” or “be aware of barroom risks” or “avoid these places” or “don’t dress this way,” and failing to admonish men to not rape.

What impresses me about feminist self defense is that it does more than teach skills to fight off a rapist; it works to empower women – both to defend themselves and to become agents of change.  In order to create comprehensive prevention efforts we need to include efforts that support people taking action.

Perhaps the question of whether virtual reality works or not is not as important as how does a prevention effort contribute to creating a environment where social change can take place.

What do you think?

Here is the full citation, abstract from SafetyLit and a link to article abstract on the journal’s web site:

Can virtual reality increase the realism of role plays used to teach college women sexual coercion and rape-resistance skills?

Jouriles EN, McDonald R, Kullowatz A, Rosenfield D, Gomez GS, Cuevas A. Behavior Therapy 2009; 40(4): 337-45.

(Copyright © 2009, Elsevier Publishing)

The present study evaluated whether virtual reality (VR) can enhance the realism of role plays designed to help college women resist sexual attacks. Sixty-two female undergraduate students were randomly assigned to either the Role Play (RP) or Virtual Role Play (VRP) conditions, which were differentiated only by the use of VR technology in the VRP condition. A multimethod assessment strategy was used to evaluate the effects of VR on the experienced realism of sexually threatening role plays. Realism was assessed by participant self-reports of negative affect and perceptions of realism, direct observation of participants’ verbal displays of negative affect during the role plays, and measurements of participant heart rate during the role plays. Results indicated that VR can indeed heighten the realism of sexually threatening role plays. Discussion focuses on issues regarding the use of VR-enhanced role plays for helping college women resist sexual attacks.

David Lee

David S. Lee, MPH, is the Director of Prevention Services at the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA) where he provides training and technical assistance on prevention. David manages the national project Prevention Connection, an online community of violence against women prevention practitioners, funders, researchers and activists. For over 29 years David has worked in efforts to end domestic violence and sexual assault.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • abyss2hope November 19, 2009, 10:19 AM

    I believe that for every rape resistance program conducted there should be at least one parallel program conducted which is directed at primary rape prevention. Without that real balance any statement that victims aren’t solely responsible for rape prevention is meaningless.

    In this case that would mean creating and evaluating a virtual reality program to help teach boys and men not to coerce or force someone sexually.

  • M. Atkinson November 20, 2009, 8:52 AM

    I agree. One obstacle is that in many areas of the country (and even academia), this work–“rape work”–is still thought of as a women’s issue, which many of (us) men use as our excuse to “opt out” of action. Men assume that the end of our responsibility is to rehearse the platitude, “I would never rape, I think it’s wrong,” with little additional investment in this issue. Of course, the implication of what we’re saying is that primary prevention is not an organized program, but a cultural presence in everyday life:” the way I parent my sons, the way I partner my wife, the way I teach at my church, the way I choose channels to watch–ALL of this becomes collective “primary prevention” in the sense that it impacts the culture, as opposed to a curriculum that people sit and hear, then adjourn from. My hope would be that we could implement cultural norms in which the Paul Kivels and Jackson Katz’s of the world aren’t conspicuous activists, but reflections of the normative truths of boys’ and mens’ lives.

  • abyss2hope November 20, 2009, 10:48 AM

    M. Atkinson,

    I believe part of the reason why rape is so victim focused is that it isn’t seen as harmful to a boy or man to be sexually manipulative or abusive and it is widely believed that if girls are careful they won’t be raped. So there is no widespread feeling that it is imperative to teach boys how to ensure that all of the sexual contact they have with others is fully consensual.

  • Meg Stone February 2, 2010, 8:32 AM

    Thanks for this post. Primary prevention is necessarily a multi-faceted, coordinated endeavor and any one strategy in isolation has potential negative consequences. As the Director of a social change-oriented self-defense program I am constantly aware of ensuring that safety and self-advocacy skills are taught in a way that challenges victim blaming and supports women in experiencing their power. Another important aspect of self-defense is the fact that it gives people the experience of being effective in the face of fear and this is exactly the quality we want in bystanders and community leaders for their efforts to challenge rape culture. It is my hope that as a movement we can work more to create linkages between self-defense training and bystander mobilization programs. IMPACT Boston’s Peer IMPACT program is an example of this:
    http://www.impactboston.com/abuse-prevention.html

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