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By on October 14, 2014

Online sexual violence prevention program may show promise

There are a lot of online programs that colleges use to try to prevent sexual violence, especially during student orientation. Many of these programs are only one session or only cover topics like legal definitions of sexual assault and knowledge about consent. A new web-based program evaluated at Georgia State University covered these topics, but it also incorporated information about social norms, bystander intervention, and more into six 30-minute sessions. The program used interactive activities and a serial drama that modeled desirable behaviors. It was theory-driven and addressed risk and protective factors. It was also rigorously evaluated, using a true experimental design, with random selection and assignment to the program or to a control group, which consisted of a web-based program on more generic health topics. Although the participants were limited to men at a large, urban, southern university, they were diverse in terms of race, grade point average, and other factors.

Image source: Flickr Creative Commons, Brian Moore
Image source: Flickr Creative Commons, Brian Moore

The web-based program, called RealConsent, showed some promise. In a follow-up survey six months after the study, men who had completed RealConsent reported better knowledge and attitudes than people in the control group on factors believed to lead to bystander intervention and to sexual assault perpetration. They showed better legal knowledge of sexual assault and rape, knowledge of effective consent, and intentions to intervene against rape-supportive attitudes and speech and sexually coercive behaviors; as well as less hostility toward women, acceptance of peers’ sexually coercive behavior, and hyper-gender ideology.

The study also measured actual behaviors, not just risk and protective factors. The RealConsent group was significantly more likely to report intervening against rape-supportive attitudes, speech, and behaviors, and significantly less likely to report perpetrating sexual assault than the control group.

There were some limitations to the study, though. Out of the 743 men who started the study and completed the program, only 215 made it all the way through the six-month follow-up survey. Similar numbers of participants dropped out of each group, and the researchers say that the people who dropped out of both groups were similar. Still, when so few participants made it the whole way through the study, it’s impossible to know if the people who did complete the study were different in some way that affected the results. It’s also hard to rely on self-report. It could be that after the RealConsent participants learned about legal definitions of rape and sexual assault, as well as about getting effective consent, they didn’t report any sexual coercion they perpetrated because they knew it was unacceptable.

Hopefully, there will be more evaluation of RealConsent and web-based programs like it in the future, so we can see if this program is good for students at other colleges and beyond. If more studies show that this multi-session, multi-topic web-based model is effective, it could be a great tool to reach large audiences with fewer resources.


Full citation: Salazar, L.F., Vivolo-Kantor, A., Hardin, J., & Berkowitz, A. (2014). Journal of Medical Internet Research, 16(9). doi:10.2196/jmir.3426

Link to full article (free):

Full abstract:

Background: Bystander intervention approaches offer promise for reducing rates of sexual violence on college campuses. Most interventions are in-person small-group formats, which limit their reach and reduce their overall public health impact.
Objective: This study evaluated the efficacy of RealConsent, a Web-based bystander approach to sexual violence prevention, in enhancing prosocial intervening behaviors and preventing sexual violence perpetration.
Methods: A random probability sample of 743 male undergraduate students (aged 18 to 24 years) attending a large, urban university located in the southeastern United States was recruited online and randomized to either RealConsent (n=376) or a Web-based general health promotion program (n=367). Participants were surveyed online at baseline, postintervention, and 6-months postintervention. RealConsent was delivered via a password-protected Web portal that contained six 30-minute media-based and interactive modules covering knowledge of informed consent, communication skills regarding sex, the role of alcohol and male socialization in sexual violence, empathy for rape victims, and bystander education. Primary outcomes were self-reported prosocial intervening behaviors and sexual violence perpetration. Secondary outcomes were theoretical mediators (eg, knowledge, attitudes).
Results: At 6-month follow-up RealConsent participants intervened more often (P=.04) and engaged in less sexual violence perpetration (P=.04) compared to controls. In addition, RealConsent participants reported greater legal knowledge of sexual assault (P<.001), greater knowledge of effective consent (P<.001), less rape myths (P<.001), greater empathy for rape victims (P<.001), less negative date rape attitudes (P<.001), less hostility toward women (P=.01), greater intentions to intervene (P=.04), less hyper-gender ideology (P<.001), less positive outcome expectancies for nonconsensual sex (P=.03), more positive outcome expectancies for intervening (P<.001), and less comfort with other men’s inappropriate behaviors (P<.001).
Conclusions: Our results support the efficacy of RealConsent. Due to its Web-based format, RealConsent has potential for broad-based dissemination thereby increasing its overall public health impact on sexual violence.

3 responses to “Online sexual violence prevention program may show promise”

  1. I’m curious, how much do web-based prevention programs cost a college per student? I’m sure they are a cheaper alternative to in person training sessions.

  2. Great question, Tyler.

    It varies by program. RealConsent isn’t yet available for implementation on new campuses, but you can learn more, including how to contact the creators, here. Here’s a table with the costs of several different online programs, for reference.

  3. Great, thank you! I am researching campus sexual assault for a policy class and this will help tremendously!

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