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Report: No Drop in Sexual Assault

While new programming offered through the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (OSAPR) effectively increased awareness of sexual assault resources on campus, the educational programs did not correspond to an overall reduction in sexual assault, according to a report released by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health.

The report evaluated “Sex Signals,” a new educational orientation session offered during Freshman Week, as well as other small group workshops offered to freshmen entryways.

Researchers surveyed members of the Class of 2007, who attended “Sex Signals,” and compared the results to students from the Class of 2006, who did not.

The hour-long workshops cover various aspects of sexual assault prevention at Harvard, including rape myths and facts, support resources, scenarios in which sexual assault can happen, as well as College policy, OSAPR Director Susan B. Marine wrote in an e-mail.

The Class of 2007 showed improved attitudes toward rape myths and responsibility compared to the control group, principal investigator Jay G. Silverman said, adding that this result was an indication of the efficacy of the program.

But Silverman said that the results were also surprising.

“It’s very difficult to have positive impact in this area—in terms of improving the culture in colleges that supports sexual assault,” Silverman said. “So we were very happy to see many of the changes that we did.”

The report also found that, after other educational events offered through OSAPR, male and female students were more likely to indicate that they had sought some form of outside intervention, whether reporting a sexual assault to a friend, the police, or OSAPR.

But student feedback evaluating the efficacy of “Sex Signals” and the small-group workshops leveled several complaints at the limitations of these programs.

Students said the sessions automatically assumed students would engage in high-risk behaviors as college students, according to the survey. Students victimized by sexual assault said they found that “Sex Signals” and the small-group workshops were “too personal” to be offered at the start of freshman year, when entering students had not yet established stable relationships.

Students, too, said that the programs focused too extensively on “the definition and legal ramifications of sexual assault” and should be expanded to include more discussion.

Students also commented that OSAPR’s programs would most likely be more effective if offered more frequently throughout the school year.

Both male and female students noted in the survey that for entryway sessions, single-sex small group sessions facilitated better communication.

Several changes made by administrators to the document were visible in a Microsoft Word tracking system.

Among the deleted portions of the final document sent to the Crimson by OSAPR yesterday are complaints that group facilitators were condescending, overly assertive, or too personal.

“She alienated the boys and as a result no one listened to her; she offended many of the girls too,” the comments read. “The group leader was inappropriate and was often talking about her own sexual experiences.”

Marine said that the report would help guide efforts to improve OSAPR programming.

“It is our goal through this education that we reduce adherence to rape myths, that students increase use of bystander intervention and risk reduction, and that we ultimately reduce victimization,” she wrote in an e-mail.

But Marine said that it was too soon to see whether OSAPR would implement any significant changes, if at all.

OSAPR will consult with student facilitators and its advisory committee later this spring to discuss any potential changes, Marine wrote in an e-mail.

—Staff writer Margaret W. Ho can be reached at mwho@fas.harvard.edu.

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