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New Study Suggests College Rape Prevention Programs Don’t Work

Good intentions may backfire on campus.

Monkey Business Images/Dreamstime.comMonkey Business Images/Dreamstime.comEvery year, college campuses across the country conduct sexual assault prevention workshops, courses, and orientation sessions. Yet every year, little research is done on whether these interventions result in fewer sexual assaults. A new article published in the journal Aggression and Violent Behavior suggests that sexual assault prevention programs might actually be making the problem worse.

Researchers Neil Malamuth and Mark Huppin, from the University of California, Los Angeles, and Daniel Linz of the University of California, Santa Barbara, found growing evidence of a "boomerang effect," where high-risk men behave more aggressively, not less, after interventions designed to change their behavior.

These findings provide a useful critique of the sexual assault prevention models that have proliferated since 2013, when the Violence Against Women Act required public universities that federal funds to implement sexual assault prevention courses for their students.

Because the law doesn't require universities to assess whether their programming actually works, many institutions may be using methods which don't help their students, the researchers claim. They identified 158 relevant studies and winnowed the list down to 28 qualifying, quantitative studies that also contained behavioral analysis and follow-ups.

For instance, many schools have employed a bystander model for sexual assault education, which "targets all community members as potential bystanders and seeks to engage them in proactive behaviors that establish intolerance of violence as the norm." This is all well and good, but Malamuth et al. say there's "no evidence" that the method works at "changing high risk males' attitudes, emotions, empathy levels, or behaviors." In other words, many schools are using prevention programs that are unlikely to affect the demographic of students most likely to commit sexual assault. (The study focuses on high-risk males because men are statistically far more likely to rape than women are.)

These high-risk males might, in fact, be made more likely to engage in sexual violence as a result of these interventions. One of the papers reviewed, from 2015, suggests that "according to reactance theory, when people perceive that their freedoms are threatened they may resist such influence and assert autonomy by moving in the opposite direction to the perceived influence."

This is hardly a controversial observation. When college orientation programs preach the ills of excessive drinking, do students at risk for that behavior mostly fall in line? Or, do they decorate their beers with koozies emblazoned with the school's anti-drinking policy (a popular practice at my alma mater) and roll joints using pages of the school's honor code?

Studies from 2014 on anti-smoking and drinking campaigns corroborate this: when high-risk people's choices are threatened, the risky behavior is reinforced, not lessened. A 2015 study on graphic cigarette packaging found that cancerous, rotted lung images and the like didn't actually deter smokers, but gave them the sense that their freedom was being threatened.

Another 2015 study found that "men low in sexism showed less aggressive tendencies following exposure to messages emphasizing norms of gender equality...Conversely, men high in hostile sexist attitudes showed a boomerang effect of increased sexually aggressive tendencies." A 2009 study examined the results that rape prevention efforts––namely a 50-minute video––had on low- and high-risk college-aged men. Looking at the whole sample of men after weeks, researchers noted "an increase in victim empathy," but this can mostly be attributed to the low-risk group. High-risk men "were more likely at follow-up to report higher sexually coercive behaviors" than before.

Based on these findings, Malamuth et al. claim that the boomerang effect is "very possible with current sexual violence interventions on university campuses."

It's clear that colleges need to actually measure whether these approaches inadvertently worsen the behavior of men most likely to act violently. Simply forcing students to sit through hours of feel-good programming isn't good enough. If sexual assault trends on campus truly are as dire as many people claim, we should be tracking the efficacy of interventions. Otherwise, colleges are just preaching to the choir of people who rightly see sexual violence as undeniably, obviously bad.

Photo Credit: Monkey Business Images/Dreamstime.com

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  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    Good intentions may backfire on campus

    Oh Liz...

    smdh

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    People don't like being preached to any more than they like being threatened. Every corporate nanny seminar I've been to just pisses people off at the waste of time and makes them resentful of the nannies who disrupt their work with those mind-numbing sessions. Then there's the hour or so afterwards of griping and cooling down and getting back in the work frame of mind.

    And when real world examples pop up, when there's actually some bearing on the stupid seminars, people just roll their eyes and joke about it.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    "according to reactance theory, when people perceive that their freedoms are threatened they may resist such influence and assert autonomy by moving in the opposite direction to the perceived influence."

    Reactance Theory is also known as the Uh Duh Theory.

  • Libertymike||

    You should know.

    Notwithstanding all of our efforts to persuade you that life is better enjoyed by being happy and joyous, you double down on the dour, reveling in your curmudgeonly misanthropy.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    I'm not sure if there is a message directed at me somewhere in this.

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    "Reactance theory" is just a new form of psychological arble-garble meant to sound high-minded while telling us stuff that we already know. If they just put it in plain English the question would naturally arise whether we need these people or not, and the probable answer to that is too threatening for them to contemplate.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    Looking at the whole sample of men after weeks, researchers noted "an increase in victim empathy," but this can mostly be attributed to the low-risk group. High-risk men "were more likely at follow-up to report higher sexually coercive behaviors" than before.

    What a surprise. People who aren't predisposed to doing bad things keep not doing bad things and people disposed to doing bad things do bad things harder. It's a good thing somebody studied this.

  • ||

    It's also possible that a group of people not really doing bad things in general were simply made more aware of the not bad things they were doing.

    I'm not sure as to the number of drinks I've bought various women. If someone equated every drink I've ever bought for a woman to rape, I'd probably be more aware of that number. Moreover, even after re-edumacation, if I'd bought a woman drinks for sympathetic reasons, I'd self-report that incident as me being sympathetic rather than a drink rapist.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    I just realized that you think I'm disagreeing with the study.

  • General_Tso||

    I'd say that colleges moving the goalposts to include a lingering glance as sexual assault might have something to do with the increased numbers.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    Smiling and saying hi is rape.

  • ||

    I still don't think you're appreciating the nuance of their research. If you smile and say hi because you think it might brighten their day or because it's a polite thing to do, you're displaying victim empathy. If you smile and say hi because you want to sleep with them, you're being sexually coercive. See the distinction?

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    Once upon a time it was possible to be a little silly around here without some Serious Sam crawling up your ass. I guess those days are gone.

  • VinniUSMC||

    If you smile and say hi, and have lots of money, or are famous, or good looking, it's welcome flirting. If not, it's rape.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    If you smile and say hi, and have lots of money, or are famous, or good looking, it's welcome flirting

    In this case, it's not rape until after you've had consesual sex and want to move on.

  • D-Pizzle||

    It's like the SNL skit from a decade ago. The best way to avoid being sexually harassing at work is to be good looking.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    ""If you smile and say hi because you think it might brighten their day or because it's a polite thing to do, you're displaying victim empathy. If you smile and say hi because you want to sleep with them, you're being sexually coercive. See the distinction?""

    The part missing is who represents your intent, and these days it ain't you.

  • Merl3noir||

    And what if you smile and say hi because you enjoy sleeping with them.... and someone else assumes it was directed at them and gets all offended and feels disgusting because some creep smiled in their vague direction... is that being sexually coercive?

  • Longtobefree||

    If you are male-ish, it absolutely is.

  • DajjaI||

    Yep. These trainings are designed to backfire. I've been studying them for years. The goal is to model amoral behavior and portray it as normal. Also 13 Reasons Why is a great example. A common scene is kids excited to have sex and then suddenly one of them starts crying and freaks out and jumps out of bed. The goal is to show how to trap vulnerable kids into being a sex offender. Also lots of stuff about how you have to be nice to everyone and if you say the wrong thing that could cause a suicide. It's really preposterous. (But fun viewing I have to admit.)

  • VinniUSMC||

    That's what you got out of 13 Reasons Why? Wut? Did we watch the same show?

  • Brandybuck||

    How to prevent muggings the the university way: "Don't worry about the southeast side of town! Just go there and flash your money around and act like you don't belong. Don't listen to anyone who tells you not to flash your money around in the southeast side of town, that's just slutshaming. And if a mugging does happen, just report it to your nearest administrator who will start the process of expelling the mugger. Remember, it's not your fault."

    How to prevent rapes the university way: "Don't worry about dressing provocatively at drunken frat parties! Just go there and get drunk and be a cock tease. Don't listen to anyone who tells you not to drink or dress modestly or go to wild frat parties, that's just slutshaming. And if a rape does happen, just report it to your nearest administrator who will start the process of expelling the rapist. Remember, it's not your fault."

    Seriously, I'm NOT blaming the victim. Rape is a horrible crime and it's never the victim's fault. BUT getting drunk at unchaperoned frat parties full of horny guys in an environment that you yourself call a "rape culture", while wearing a slut suit is stupid. If you don't want to lose control of your body, don't get drunk. If you don't want sex then don't advertise that you want sex. If you want to hang out with boys who won't take advantage of you, don't go to frat parties.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    Way to misogynist, bro.

  • Brandybuck||

    Doesn't matter. Rape is not a serious offense after all. The punishment is merely getting expelled from a college. The police aren't even involved anymore. So if you want to drink yourself into oblivion at a frat boy that's been put on probation while wearing a hooker dress, go right ahead. The worst that could happen is that some boy gets expelled.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    It's pretend world vs. real world, In real world only a complete idiot would behave like that, in either situation. In pretend world, where it's all correct and everything is equitable, such statements are called "patriarchal," "blaming the victim," and "promoting rape culture." Only a totally retrograde cis-gendered shit lord would advise a woman to not dress in any specific way, to avoid slums at night, or to stay sober at an Animal House party.

  • 100% Satisfaction Guaranteed||

    I don't see where he mentioned gender bro.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    It's implied, bro. Only women get drunk and raped.

  • 100% Satisfaction Guaranteed||

    You've never been to a frat party I see.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    True dat

  • Eidde||

    If 1 in 3 or 1 in 4 coeds are going to get raped in college, then if you're in such a danger zone you should always have your wits about you.

    In fact, you should probably avoid college altogether and go somewhere safer for women like Somalia or whatever.

  • Brandybuck||

    Or just don't get drunk at frat parties.

    One interesting statistic is that most of these rapes and assults happen during the first year of college. If I recall. Which suggests that there's a high correlation with dorm living and/or being out in the adult world for the first time and simply not knowing how to behave in a safe manner. Not sure which, but my guess is the latter. Our culture just throws kids into the deep end of the adult swimming pool. First time drinking. First time sexing. First time learning that rent is due when the rent is due. But mainly the first time with alcohol and sex. And they're not as simple to learn as the progressives suggest it is, that there really are consequences.

    Which is why telling kids not to get drunk at frat parties is NOT slut shaming, but merely trying to tell them something their parents never bothered to. Horny teenagers all alone with too much alcohol WILL lead to sexual regrets. Some regrets far more traumatic than others.

  • Eidde||

    Yes, indeed. I didn't mean to sound like I was disagreeing.

    But more and more people (including young women) will probably be choosing alternatives to the traditional residential college, especially if they do some careful financial calculating.

    My guess is it will be harder to get raped via computer when you're taking online evening courses. But what do I know?

  • The Last American Hero||

    It didn't stop Haven Monaghan.

  • Zeb||

    And, once you have done some drinking and know how it works for you, you should be able to learn to avoid situations where you get shit faced and someone takes advantage of you.

    And it's not to say that you aren't a victim of rape if you get wasted and someone takes advantage without your consent (I do hold that drunk consent is absolutely possible). But you need to know that there are shitty people in the world who will take advantage.

  • SchillMcGuffin||

    I'm pretty sure those probabilities are only valid when your definition of "rape" encompasses being groped or not remembering who you had sex with after getting blackout drunk. But I don't challenge the rest of the comment.

  • Atlas Slugged||

    Lynching is a horrible crime and it's never the victim's fault. BUT being black in the deep south in the early 20th century full of KKK members in an environment that you yourself call a "lynching culture", while being dark skinned is stupid. If you don't want to lose control of your body, don't be black. If you want to hang out with white boys who won't lynch you, don't live in the deep south

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    I don't quite agree with the analogy. While no one can control everything, women can choose to avoid high risk situations and behaviors [like making themselves vulnerable by getting drunk at a frat party]; however, as the quote goes, "a leopard cannot change its spots, nor an Ethiopian the color of his skin." Jeremiah, I believe.

  • Eidde||

    Actually, a lot of black people seem to have heeded some such advice, given the Great Migrations to the North during the Jim Crow era.

    The migrants weren't endorsing lynching or Jim Crow or lack of opportunity, but they *were* moving to places where these things were somewhat less virulent.

    Any staying away from drunken frat parties and crime-prone areas involves less of a sacrifice than migrating out of an entire region.

  • 100% Satisfaction Guaranteed||

    Agreed, being black is the same as swimming in shark infested water.

  • Eidde||

    It is in schlocky horror movies.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    Then I suppose the best course of action would be to swim in non infested water, if such an option exists.

    And I still don't get equating being Black in 1920s deep South with girls getting raped at college.

  • Atlas Slugged||

    Its not a perfectly analogy but blaming drunk coeds about getting raped is ridiculous.

  • 100% Satisfaction Guaranteed||

    Agreed, as is blaming people for swimming in shark infested water.

  • Zeb||

    That's also a bad analogy. Getting eaten by sharks is what you expect from jumping into a pool of hungry sharks. Sharks do what's in their nature. But you'd like to think that going to a party isn't the same kind of risk. And it isn't.

    But, to point out that some changes in behavior would make you safer is not blaming the victim. It is acknowledging the reality that the world is a dangerous place and there are people out there who would harm you or take advantage of you given the chance.

  • 100% Satisfaction Guaranteed||

    "That's also a bad analogy"

    No, it's a good analogy that you don't agree with because you think rapists aren't criminal predators.

    "But you'd like to think that going to a party isn't the same kind of risk"

    If their stats are to be believed, then parties are actually far more dangerous than swimming in the ocean.

    " Sharks do what's in their nature"

    So do rapists. Thanks for making my point.

  • Zeb||

    No, it's a good analogy that you don't agree with because you think rapists aren't criminal predators.

    How do you figure?

    If their stats are to be believed, then parties are actually far more dangerous than swimming in the ocean.

    I tend to think they are not to be believed. At least not a lot of the ones that are commonly thrown around. And you said "shark infested water", not "the ocean".

    " Sharks do what's in their nature"

    So do rapists. Thanks for making my point.

    We have different expectations from animals and humans. If you jump into water where there are known to be dangerous animals, we don't blame the animal for eating you. We do blame rapists for raping. Yes, there are people with violent and sociopathic natures. But we expect them to restrain that part of their nature and punish them if they don't.

    There will always be people who do bad things. And it's always good to be vigilant and aware of your surroundings and not expect that everyone will do the right thing all the time. But if we can't consider people to be moral agents, unlike sharks, then we should just give up on this whole civilization thing.

  • Atlas Slugged||

    Drunk coeds are also vulnerable to theft or being beaten to death. Would you say the coed is culpable in those situations?

  • 100% Satisfaction Guaranteed||

    At least partially, yes. When you choose to forego your self control by drowning it in alcohol you are voluntarily placing yourself in a more dangerous position, regardless of the environment.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    Drunk coeds are necessarily putting themselves at risk. It does not make it "ok" for some asshole to rape them while they are passed out, but unless and until human nature undergoes one hell of a change, it is what it is. It's not fair, correct, considerate, humane, or in any way "woke" but then what the hell is?

  • Atlas Slugged||

    Sincere question. What do you think the reaction would be if intoxicants put advisory labels stating the consumer had an increased risk of assault while consuming?

    For the record, I do think anyone who is incapacitated by a substance is at increased risk of being taken advantage of.

  • 100% Satisfaction Guaranteed||

    Then you have to agree they are at least partially at fault, unless they got Cosby'd.

  • Atlas Slugged||

    I do not assign culpability for someone who is drunk for them being assaulted. I do agree they would be at increased risk for being assaulted.

  • Star1988||

    And that they are freely choosing the risk level they are taking on. One of the great ironies here is that the argument that people like Camille Paglia used in the 60's to overthrow dorm curfews for women was that they should be free to put themselves at risk of being raped.

  • Star1988||

    And that they are freely choosing the risk level they are taking on. One of the great ironies here is that the argument that people like Camille Paglia used in the 60's to overthrow dorm curfews for women was that they should be free to put themselves at risk of being raped.

  • Brandybuck||

    People don't choose to be black, but people do choose to get wasted and out of control at frat parties. And even if one is black, one does not just walk into a KKK meeting expecting that nothing bad will happen. But girls pass out drunk at frat parties all the time and then act shocked, SHOCKED, that someone groped them while they were passed out ass up.

    We also did out damnedest to get rid of the KKK and Jim Crow and most forms of institutionalized racism. But we do jack shit about the alcohol based fraternity culture.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    The alcohol based fraternity culture. Just what would it take to change that? Mandatory estrogen injections?

  • Atlas Slugged||

    Getting black out drunk is a bad idea for lots of reasons, but it does not mean coeds should accept being assaulted. Although rare, what about the women who are drugged? Next time you're drunk with your buddies, its expected one of them might insert something into your rectum? I'm not buying your argument.

    PS. I'm a-ok with fratboy culture going away

  • 100% Satisfaction Guaranteed||

    Who said anything about accepting anything?

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    Buy whatever you want, you will not change reality, except in your own mind. "Frat boy culture" has been around for the duration of the human race; while I believe it is generally better than it was in the not too distant past, there will always be thoughtless douche bags who don't give a shit about whether or not a woman wants to have sex with them. One such raped my niece, forcibly, while she was under the influence at a college party. Did that make it ok, you ask? Fuck no, but that is the way if fucking is, except in your perfect wanna be world.

  • Atlas Slugged||

    Sorry to hear about your niece; that is tragic.

    Do I think some element of fratboy-ness will persist in humankind for a long time? Yes. We as a species are likely stuck with assholes indefinitely. I'm not going to say it was the coed's fault for getting drunk or since there are fratboys there is nothing to be done.

  • The Last American Hero||

    It was preventable, which is the real tragedy. She went to the party, got totally wasted, didn't use the buddy system, and probably was pretty flirty. It doesn't justify rape, but avoiding social situations like crazy house parties, opting for smaller parties where people know each other, knowing your tolerance levels, using the buddy system- any on of these could have prevented this.

  • Brandybuck||

    I am not saying it is the victim's fault. STOP IMPLYING THAT! Geez, dude, give it up already.

    Telling someone not to get drunk at a party is not blaming the victim any more than telling someone not to flash their cash around in a bad neighborhood is blaming the mugging victim. Are you too dense to not see that? I'm not slut shaming you by telling you to lock your car when you're in a bad neighborhood.

    Your body is ultimately your responsibility. Act like it.

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    Clearly the answer is to forget about college, learn a trade and some basic self-defense and get to work. Few guys want to try to rape a woman with Popeye forearms toting a 9-pound sledgehammer and a burning torch.

  • Eidde||

    "(The study focuses on high-risk males because men are statistically far more likely to rape than women are.)"

    I know, right? In college I was surrounded by women but none of them wanted to rape me.

    "Simply forcing students to sit through hours of feel-good programming isn't good enough."

    It's obviously "good enough" to meet government guidelines and keep the federal subsidies flowing until the nation goes bankrupt, which will hopefully be after these administrators have made their pile.

    Oh, you mean "good enough" to reduce rape?

    By the way, how reliable is it to interview guys and ask them about their rape-y behavior?

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    "...men are statistically far more likely to rape than women are." Talk about double standards.

  • 100% Satisfaction Guaranteed||

    We need to fill the rape gap!

  • Eidde||

    In this case, that's the wrong phrasing. I hope.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    I'm calling for rape equity; it is way to disproportionate.

  • D-Pizzle||

    The real double standard is that women cannot consent while drunk, but men can.

  • Number 2||

    I'd be interested in finding out (1) what constitutes a "higher risk male," (2) what is being defined as "sexually coercive behavior," and (3) how one determines when and whether someone has engaged in "sexually coercive behavior."

  • The Last American Hero||

    1- being straight
    2- doing anything that a woman objects to - either at the time or 20 yrs after the fact
    3- ever met someone you wanted to have s c with that wasn't interested in you? Guess what, you just mentally raped someone.

  • Tricia McMillan||

    It's no accident that the preferred term is now "sexual assault" rather than "rape." If you call enough clear-cut cases of rape "sexual assault," then people begin to hear "rape" whenever you say "sexual assault," when SA is obviously a way broader term. Most, if not all of the data on this stuff use the broad term, and as a result, I think the uptick is probably nonexistent. But I'd be open to persuasion by more reliable data with clearly defined, consistent terminology.

  • The Last American Hero||

    Ah, the old climate change/global warming switcheroo .

  • Brandybuck||

    Even "assault" has been dumbed down. What was once rude and boorish behavior is now called sexual assault, which is now called rape. Which is why "rape" is now punishable by mere expulsion from school.

  • Longtobefree||

    Yep. Pass out in an elevator, and if you brush a woman's ass on the way down, you are a rapist.
    And then they wonder why no one gives a damn anymore.

  • Longtobefree||

    What do you mean 'don't work'?
    The program administrators and trainers get paid big bucks. Exactly what is your definition of "works"?

  • buybuydandavis||

    "Good intentions may backfire on campus."

    There are no good intentions behind Marxists.

  • LEAPGuyAZ||

    A guy taught Rape Proofing at Eastern Washington University when I was a cop there.

    It's simple if someone attempts to rape a woman put your hands on his face act like you're going along with it, then take out both eyes. OR rub his genitals like you're going along the grab a testicle, and he said pop it like a grape. Either one if you use it the rapist is disabled, if you choose not to do anything he knows nothing...

    A woman in the class asked if it wouldn't make the rapists mad. The instructor just smiled and said, no. You can go have lunch come back, he'll be there...

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    Assuming that a woman is not overwhelmed by sheer numbers or a weapon, self-defense against rape is not hard. It is mostly a matter of will

  • Star1988||

    Yup. This is precisely why it mostly happens to stoned, high or drunk women. Maybe it offers a way forward that overrides Atlas Slugged's common "don't blame the victim" argument: Teach Rape Proofing as above, and then teach what happens to your ability to Rape Proof when stoned, high or drunk. Then allow everyone to choose their own acceptable level of risk.

  • Malvolio||

    Wow, you mean taking someone with pre-existing issues with socialisation and self-image and berating him and insulting him doesn't solve all his problems? Who knew.

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