Good news about changing rape culture

Good news on changing rape culture

Photo: Bryan Sikora

In many parts of the world women are vulnerable to sexual violence and harassment because of male attitudes towards women, their role in society and their sexual rights. So it is encouraging news that a trial educational program found a positive effect in changing the way young men think about sexual violence and consent regarding women. It means that rape culture can be changed.

A study from the Stanford University School of Medicine looked at the effect a short educational program had on boys in Kenya. The country has a high rate of rape and violence against women, but those males who participated in the program were found to be less likely to engage in sexual violence and also more likely to try and stop it.

The program was developed by an NGO called No Means No Worldwide. It constructed a curriculum targeted at young males that endeavoured to alter the negative attitudes they had regarding women. One of its primary aims was to teach boys and men, who are generally brought up in an environment that abuses women, to realise that assaulting and raping women is not the norm and should not be tolerated.

“The curriculum for these young men is centred on getting them to think about what kind of people they want to be. It’s about really getting them invested in why they need to step up and care about violence toward women: it affects their mothers, sisters and girlfriends,” said lead author Jennifer Keller, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Stanford.

In the study, 1,543 males from the ages of 15 to 22 from the Nairobi slums participated. In the treatment group, 1,205 youths attended the educational sessions, which consisted of six two-hour-long sittings. The course centred on how violence against women was the cultural norm, but that it was not right. These participants were taught to recognise how certain behaviours propagate the negative attitudes and how they can be stopped. The areas covered included myths about women, gender stereotypes, when and how to help a women who is the victim of violence, and what constitute consent to sexual activity.

“If you think that when you take a woman out to dinner, she owes you something, you may believe that consent is different than it actually is. The instructors and young men talked about understanding what true consent is and how to get that consent,” Keller said

The remaining 293 participants formed the control group who sat through life-skills classes. Both groups were surveyed immediately before their courses to establish their baseline attitudes towards women, and 9 months after ending the course to find out whether and how their attitudes toward women changed. Males who took the anti-sexual violence course were also surveyed immediately after the end of the course and at 4.5 to see how the effects changed over time.

The initial survey data showed that both groups had negative attitudes towards women. However, after the courses, the group who had been educated about violence against women showed more positive views toward females. They were also less susceptible to believing myths about rape. This positive attitude was apparent even 4.5 and nine months later.

The comparison group, however, showed now change in their attitudes and some showed an even higher rate of negativity towards women at the follow-up nine months later.

“It’s very exciting that this was done in Kenya, that even in this setting with high levels of violence toward women we were able to make such an impact,” Keller said.

In addition to changing attitudes, the course also empowered males to intervene when a woman was being harassed. Both groups reported witnessing a similar number of aggressive acts towards women, but those who were in the treatment group reported two times more often that they acted to successfully prevent violence towards women.

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