University of Calgary

Resisting sexual assault

UToday HomeOctober 18, 2011

By Kathryn Sloniowski

Wilfreda Thurston, a researcher in the Faculty of Medicine, is helping study the effectiveness of a workshop that teaches women to assess their risk of sexual assault and take preventative action.Wilfreda Thurston, a researcher in the Faculty of Medicine, is helping study the effectiveness of a workshop that teaches women to assess their risk of sexual assault and take preventative action.A new study on campus will determine whether a specially designed workshop is effective in helping women resist sexual assault by male acquaintances.

The study, which is in partnership with the University of Windsor and the University of Guelph, is looking at the effectiveness of Sexual Assault Resistance Education—a workshop designed to teach women to assess their risk of sexual assault in certain situations, to assess men’s behaviour, and to take action to resist coercive sex.

In a randomized control trial, the study will focus on women ages 18-24 who are in their first year of a degree program—including medicine and veterinarian medicine. Participants volunteer to take part in the study and will be randomly assigned to either take the workshop, or receive educational materials and instruction currently available to students. Each participant will then complete follow up surveys at six month intervals for two years.

“If the sexual assault resistance education is as effective in the trial as it was in the pilot, this will be a cost effective population health intervention that all universities could use,” says Wilfreda Thurston, a researcher in the Faculty of Medicine. “There are many social and health consequences of sexual assault and experiencing it has a long term effect.”

Thurston says the workshop was developed based on the principle that, “everybody has the right to choose what type of sexual practice they want to participate in and that coercion is never right.”

She says the workshops, taught by trained female facilitators who are often students themselves, are educational and fun and a lot of work was done in the pilot to determine what participants did and didn’t like and/or respond to. Food is provided and prizes are available.

The study, which is funded by CIHR, will take place on the three university campuses over five years. Workshops will be held four times per semester with both evening and weekend availability. Students who are not randomly assigned to attend the new workshop will have the opportunity to take it at a later date.

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