By conservative estimates, one in five women report experiencing an attempted or completed sexual assault while at University in Canada. Effective prevention programs are few and far between, with the gap often filled by quick but superficial online training modules that lack a proven track record.
The Enhanced Assess, Acknowledge, Act (EAAA) sexual assault prevention program (aka Flip the Script with EAAATM), developed by Charlene Senn, a professor of psychology and women’s and gender studies, Canada Research Chair in sexual violence, and a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, is the only intervention proven to significantly reduce sexual assaults experienced by women university students.
It is a 12-hour in-person training program which helps undergraduate women resist acquaintance sexual assault by debunking myths, enhancing risk assessment skills, increasing confidence and trust in their own judgement, and providing effective tools for verbally and physically resisting sexual coercion and sexual assault. Participants are half as likely to experience an assault than those who did not complete the program.
Nonetheless, though the in-person format of the program has yielded positive outcomes, it has been challenging to equip universities with required staff resources for the implementation of the program.
Dr. Senn and her colleague Sarah Peitzmeier, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Nursing, have drawn on the expertise of UWindsor’s Office of Open Learning to adapt the EAAA program for online synchronous delivery.
Together, they are exploring whether a novel online iteration of the program, known as Internet Delivered EAAA (IDEA3), holds comparable efficacy in curbing incidents of sexual assault among young women. Other researchers on the team also include Paula Barata, a professor in psychology at the University of Guelph, Katie Edwards, a professor in educational psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Misha Eliasziw, an associate professor of public health and community medicine at Tufts University.
Spearheaded by a substantial $2.5 million grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research — the largest ever received by the University of Windsor — this team of researchers has just launched a clinical trial of IDEA3 across four North American universities, two each from Canada and the U.S. The multi-institutional endeavour is set to include more than 1,900 first- and second-year women-identified students.
The project was propelled by pilot studies involving over 70 women at the University of Michigan. The online program demonstrated effectiveness, leaving a strong impact and garnering positive feedback from participants. Notably, participants reported an increase in their confidence in both verbal and physical self-defence skills.
“The funding from CIHR gives us an opportunity to address an urgent problem on North American campuses,” said Senn. “Obtaining evidence that we can retain the effectiveness of EAAA while making it accessible to more students regardless of where they reside or study would change the landscape for comprehensive campus sexual violence prevention efforts.”
Vice-president of research and innovation Shanthi Johnson agreed.
“The adaption and expansion of the proven EAAA program to an online format ensures increased accessibility regardless of location, empowering women across North America,” she said.
The study is currently enrolling participants for the fall sessions. Interested students may visit the webpage at idea3project.ca to find out more and complete the screening survey to learn whether they are eligible.