RIT Study Finds Combating Sexual Violence is Successful with Targeted Campaign




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Sexual violence against women on college campuses remains a hot issue in the new millennium. As a leader in developing solutions for this national problem, Rochester Institute of Technology has taken the problem to task, creating a model for attitude and behavioral change for both men and women.

A study, funded by the U.S. Department of Justice and published in the February 2003 Report on Social Norms, reveals that social norms intervention campaigns to combat violence against women are most effective when tailored to the culture and concerns of specific populations.

In this case, the campaign targeted the deaf and hard-of-hearing population at RIT. It is one of the only examples in the literature of a sexual-assault educational campaign that successfully decreased the incidence of assaults. Deaf and hard-of-hearing students comprise about 12 percent of the population at RIT.

The paper, written by Julie White, director of the RIT Womenís Center, LaVerne McQuiller Williams, assistant professor of criminal justice, and Diana Cho, student development coordinator at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, shows these results.

Surveys administered in 2000 and 2002 show a reduction in sexual violence within the last school year in the following areas:

  • Sexual touching against oneís will dropped from 22 percent to 4 percent for men and from 22 percent to 17 percent for women.
  • Attempted sexual penetration (vaginal, anal or oral intercourse) against oneís will dropped from 9 percent to 1 percent for men and from 9 percent to 2 percent for women.
  • Sexual penetration against oneís will dropped from an average of 8.5 percent to 2.5 percent for both men and women.

    "This study demonstrates that social norms interventions are a promising practice for addressing sexual violence among college students," White says. "It is one of the only sexual assault prevention programs to report an actual reduction in assaults in the target population"

    A series of programs was developed to educate deaf and hard-of-hearing students about appropriate behavior in intimate relationships and to discuss RITís social norms message: Most (92%) RIT students stop the first time their date says "NO" to sexual activity. Programs included a late-night "Skate and Debate" event in RITís ice arena, skits, t-shirts and posters reflecting the social norms message and student-produced videos acted in American Sign Language and captioned in English.

    Surveys in 2002 were given to students who had been exposed to the social norms intervention campaign and those who hadnít. The study found that students exposed to the social norms message were more likely to engage in protective behaviors and to accurately perceive their peers engaging in those same behaviors. There was also a substantial decline in the total number of coercive sexual experiences by both male and female students.

    The study, White says, illustrates the necessity of involving the target audience, particularly when they are an underrepresented group, in the development of interventions.

    RIT has received almost $1 million in funding since 1999 from the U.S. Department of Justice to combat violent crimes against women on campuses, including a recent $300,000 award.

    "RITís program sets the bar for institutions of higher education to adopt comprehensive, coordinated responses to violence against women, including sexual assault, stalking and domestic violence," White says.

    Founded in 1829, RIT is internationally recognized as a leader in computing, engineering, imaging, technology, fine and applied arts, and education for the deaf. RIT enrolls 15,000 students in more than 240 undergraduate and graduate programs.

    For the past decade, U.S. News & World Report has ranked RIT as one of the nationís leading comprehensive universities. RIT is also included in Yahoo! Internet Lifeís Top 100 Wired Universities, Fiskís Guide to Americaís Best Colleges and Barronís Best Buys in Education.

    For breaking news stories, hot-topic trend pieces and interesting perspectives, visit Rochester Institute of Technologyís news site and online experts database. To connect with RIT subject matter experts, searchable by name and expertise, go to: www.rit.edu/news and click on "RIT Experts."