As the different attempts to cut the rates of sexual coercion failed, Dr. Charlene Senne proposed a solution from the other side: a research which helps the victims to spot the pre-rape situations.

According to the contemporary Canadian researchers, women attending universities “face a substantial risk of being assaulted”. Throughout the 4-year period of bachelor studies the incidence of sexual assault is estimated to be between 20% and 25%, and to be highest during the first 2 years.

There are different approaches to solve this problem, one which seem to be more effective, turn to give backlash effects. For example, programs developed in late 90-ies aiming to bring up empathy in male offenders resulted in mirror effect. Initially, the scientists operated on the theory, that the abusers had to feel compassionate about victims, that’s why they made men listen to a rape survivors’ stories. But according to a Canadian psychologist it gave an unexpected outcome:

“This really was believed to be a promising direction, but when these programs were evaluated they had backlash effects,” Dr. Charlene Senn says to “VICE”.  “There are several studies that show that the programs that did this actually increased men’s coercion after they had been in the program.”


New Program by Dr. Senn

Dr. Senn herself headed a group of researchers in 2015 from University of Windsor, which succeeded in finding a concept to decrease the occurrence of attempted rape and other forms of victimization.

Senn’s course is aimed at first year female students, the most likely to be victims of an assault. According to “The Independent” thank to the course, the rates of sexual coercion reduced by 46 per cent after including it in the main university programs in Canada.

The Enhances Assess, Acknowledge, Act Sexual Assault Resistance program consists of 4 units, which are called the same as the parts of the main title. The general idea of the course is to make female students quicker acknowledged with the situations where they can become a potential victim. That’s is why in some media one can find the definition of this program as a course helping to spot “pre-rape” warning signs.

“In our research, many survivors say that they knew something was going wrong, but they didn’t know if they were overreacting,”Senn says to “VICE”, – A lot of research has shown that it is very difficult to actually let yourself fully know that a person is trying to hurt you in before a sexual assault has already happened”.

Every unit lasts 3 hours, each consists of mini-lectures, facilitated discussion and information-providing games. Unit 1 (Assess) focuses on improving on women’s assessment of the risk of sexual assault by male acquaintances. The second unit (Acknowledge) aims to help female acknowledge the situations which have already turned coercive and work with the emotional barriers, which may prevent to resist. Unit 3 (Act) proposes methods of self-defense, including 2-hour training based on Wen-Do. “Wen-Do” is a from of self-defense, which was developed by a Canadian couple advisedly against the sexual harassment. Though the base and concept of it is taken from martial arts, Wen-Do classes do not involve any physical contact until the students require it.

Send says that most of the young female taking part in the trial courses have expressed that they had never though of what they definitely wanted sexually. Thus, the program is also aimed to make it clear for student, where their boundaries are, it also helps to establish those borders, if they have not existed before. For example, one of the activities is called “With Whom Would You Do It”, during which women are encouraged to reflect upon the sexual activities they prefer, or, in contrary, would never like to try.

“I’m happy that the program gives that space for women to really reflect on their own desires,” she says. That’s the crucial part of the program’s success, according to Dr. Seen. She believes, that it allows woman to rethink their own priorities and understand their desires better. “Women are socialized to want to trust, to want to not hurt people’s feelings or their bodies. These traits aren’t universal, but they are very common,” Senn says. “And this socialization is an obstacle to resistance.”

The opposite opinion

At the same time the program was criticized by a women-centered approach. The lessons do not prevent the rape, but only protect women from being assaulted, as they say. The program proposed by Charlene Senne do not influence on the behavior of perpetrators: “It’s possible that potential perpetrators could encounter individuals who have received training and just move on to more vulnerable individuals”, – says behavioral scientist Sarah DeGue in the interview with “The New York Times“.

Moreover, the second concern is that it puts the burden for sexual coercion on victims themselves. As it is quoted in “The Huffington post“, a researcher from CDC, Kathleen Basile says that the main weakness of Senne’s program is “that it places the onus for prevention on potential victims, possibly obscuring the responsibility of perpetrators and others. What happens when women who complete the intervention cannot successfully resist rape?”.

However, the lessons are just one of the tools to reduce the rate of sexual violence: among others like traditional self-defense programs which are encouraged in traditional school programs, the ones which work on changing the attitude toward woman by soft power, or the bystander education prevention.

“We shouldn’t just sit around and wait for a cultural shift that isn’t happening,” says Lise Gotell, a professor of women’s study at the University of Alberta, who was acquainted with new Canadian program. “When constraining women’s actions is still the major way that we can respond to the threat of sexual assault,” she says to “The Globe and Mail”,  – that is an indication of how much more we have to do.”

The lessons now will be offered in the Canadian universities, requiring the fee.Professor Senn’s intention is that, ideally, the lessons would be available in the future for all first-year women students until the “cultural shift happens” and sexual violence ends.

Subscribe to WM Daily. Be In Touch With Rebellious Voices