Individual and Relationship Strategies

 
 

Prevention strategies are developed to reduce the risk factors associated with sexual assault and to reinforce the protective factors. To learn which individual and relationship factors can contribute to sexual assault, see the Risk Factors section.

  • Individual strategies for preventing sexual assault refer to interventions designed to modify skills, beliefs or behaviours associated with an increased risk of being a victim or a perpetrator of sexual assault. Relationship strategies focus on the family and friends of the target group concerned, as well as on their interpersonal relationships.1
  • The sexual assault prevention strategies currently being proposed involve, for the most part, individual interventions that focus above all on potential victims, mainly children and young people, and to a lesser degree, on the people who care for them.2
  • Strategies that target potential perpetrators are intended to reduce the occurrence of sexually aggressive behaviour by reducing sexual offence risk factors. However, most individual interventions aimed at preventing sexually aggressive behaviour strive to prevent sex offenders who are known to the authorities from reoffending.3,4
  • The effectiveness of the various programs implemented to prevent sexual assault is still not clearly understood.5

Preventing victimization

Preventive interventions for children and young people

The most common strategies for preventing sexual abuse of young people consist of school-based educational programs.2 General programs for preventing child maltreatment and neglect are also available and may play an indirect role in preventing sexual victimization.5

Effectiveness of prevention programs

There is still a lack of knowledge about the effectiveness of many sexual abuse prevention strategies. Nonetheless, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said that violence, including sexual violence, is far too pressing a problem for preventive action to be delayed until we have a thorough understanding of it.6

School-based educational programs

 
 

Most experts agree that victims cannot take sole responsibility for preventing sexual abuse, since responsibility for such abuse lies above all with the perpetrators. Responsibility for preventing sexual abuse must be shouldered by adults and the population as a whole.1 In fact, parents’ participation in school-based prevention programs has proven to be one of the conditions that enhance the effectiveness of these programs.1,2

  • Most school-based programs for preventing sexual abuse of young people in school settings involve strategies aimed at reducing their vulnerability to this abuse and at improving their knowledge, awareness and protection skills.1,2,7,8,9
  • Sexual abuse prevention programs offered in elementary schools are generally intended to:2,9
    • encourage assertive behaviour in children;
    • inform children about abusive situations and their rights (e.g. the right to say “no”);
    • counter certain popular myths and beliefs about sexual abuse;
    • encourage children to disclose abusive situations.
  • The ESPACE program has been implemented in several elementary schools in Québec, and it has undergone a number of evaluations. For more information on this program, visit the Regroupement des organismes ESPACE website.
  • Some prevention programs for elementary school students have been evaluated systematically in an effort to demonstrate their effectiveness and safety for children.1,2
    • So far, the evaluations have shown that these programs are effective in improving children’s knowledge and ability to assert themselves and in encouraging them to disclose sexual abuse.2,5,8,9
    • However, most of the evaluations have not measured how effective the programs are at reducing sexual abuse among the children who have taken them. Furthermore, the evaluations that have measured their effectiveness have not shown that the programs reduced the incidence of sexual abuse.2,5,8,9
  • Programs are also offered to young people in secondary school not only to prevent various forms of sexual abuse but also to promote egalitarian relationships between men and women and prevent adolescent dating violence and revictimization. In general, the aim of these programs is to:
    • improve young people’s knowledge;
    • change their attitudes and behaviour in regard to sexual assault;
    • modify their ability to identify sexual assault situations.
    • Several organizations, particularly assistance centres for victims of sexual assault (CALACS), offer sexual assault prevention workshops in secondary schools in their respective regions (e.g. J’AVISE program and Viol-Secours workshops).11
    • The STOP! Program (for young people 14-16 years old)12 and the PASSAJ program (for young people 16-17 years old)13 have also been implemented in several schools in Québec.
    • On the whole, evaluations of these programs have shown that they help above all to increase young people’s knowledge about sexual assault and violence in couples and, to a lesser extent, to improve their attitudes in this regard. They also help to change certain behaviours, although to a limited degree (e.g. they improve people’s ability to respond to the disclosure of sexual abuse and assault).10,11,14,15,16
    • For more information on the STOP! and PASSAJ programs, visit their websites.
    • More generally, various programs to prevent adolescent dating violence have been implemented in schools in North America. A few evaluation studies have shown that these programs are indeed effective at preventing violence in adolescent couples; however, the results are mixed with regard to their ability to reduce sexual violence (sexual assault) in such couples.8 Nonetheless, experts believe that these programs that are effective in preventing violence in adolescent dating relationships could also prevent sexual assault in adulthood.8

Child maltreatment prevention programs

  • Since maltreatment in childhood has been associated with a greater risk of being a victim (or a perpetrator) of sexual assault, experts presume that programs to prevent child maltreatment have the potential to prevent sexual assault later in life.5
    • These programs are implemented so that action can be taken early on to prevent child maltreatment and neglect, primarily through home visitation and parenting education programs designed to enhance parents’ knowledge and parenting skills.5
    • Even though early childhood home visitation and parenting education programs are some of the most promising strategies for preventing child maltreatment, they have not been evaluated as to their efficacy in preventing people from becoming victims of sexual assault later in life.5

Protecting your child from sexual abuse

All parents want to protect their children from sexual abuse. Parents are not responsible for sexual abuse they do not commit; responsibility for such acts always lies with the perpetrator. Nonetheless, as a parent, you can do certain things to reduce the risk that your child will be a victim of sexual abuse. Unfortunately, however, taking such precautions will not guarantee that your child will never be sexually abused.

The Canadian Centre for Child Protection16 proposes various ways to reduce the risk that your child will be a victim of sexual abuse, in particular:

  • Teach your child about personal safety. For more information, visit kidsintheknow.ca.
  • Learn about the dangers of the Internet. For more information, visit The Door That’s Not Locked.
  • Be involved in your child’s life. Attend his or her activities and pay attention to interactions between the adults and children taking part.
  • Screen and check child protection policies at organizations and activities your child is involved in.
  • Supervise your child. Know his or her whereabouts.
  • Communicate with your child and create opportunities for him or her to share his or her feelings/stories/opinions/perspective with you. Pay attention to changes in your child’s behaviour patterns; it can be a sign that your child is in distress.
  • Use the correct terms for parts of the body when talking with your child. Explain the difference between okay/safe and not okay/unsafe touching.
  • Be emotionally available for your child. Let your child know that you notice if he or she is “out of sorts,” or not him or herself. Ask the question: “Is there anything I can help you with?” Let your child know that you will be available when he or she is ready to talk.

 

Preventing sexual victimization of adults

 
 

Interventions that target women in an effort to teach them strategies for resisting sexual assault have been criticized because they place responsibility for preventing this type of assault on women rather than on the perpetrators. Most experts agree on the need for a more comprehensive approach that targets not only risk reduction strategies for women but also prevention programs for men.17

  • Strategies for preventing adult sexual victimization are quite rare and concern, for the most part, the acquisition of techniques to increase a person’s ability to deal with a potential perpetrator and thereby avoid being assaulted (resistance and risk reduction strategies).7
  • Most of these programs take the form of self-defence training and they are aimed primarily at women. The training is based to varying degrees on the martial arts and usually involves a combination of theoretical instruction (e.g. about attitudes, self-image) and practical exercises. It is intended to increase women’s knowledge, make them more vigilant and provide them with practical strategies for reacting more effectively to the various forms of assault.7
    • The few studies available suggest that self-defence training boosts women’s confidence and assertiveness, makes them feel more in control of their life, enhances their sense of self-efficacy, and improves their mastery of physical skills.17 However, few studies have evaluated the effectiveness of self-defence training in actually enabling women to prevent sexual assault.
  • There are a few educational programs for adult women aimed at preventing sexual assault and most of them focus on changing attitudes (e.g. myths about sexual assault) or on bolstering women’s sense of self-efficacy.17 However, there have not been enough evaluations of these programs to conclude that they are truly effective.17
  • A few authors have recommended that sexual assault prevention at the individual level among adult females should involve educating women about at-risk situations, teaching them resistance strategies and providing them with training in self-defence.5,17

Effectiveness of prevention programs

There is still a lack of knowledge about the effectiveness of many sexual assault prevention strategies. Nonetheless, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said that violence, including sexual assault, is far too pressing a problem for preventive action to be delayed until we have a thorough understanding of it.6

Preventing sexually aggressive behaviour

Individual prevention strategies targeting perpetrators of sexual assault are designed to act on the associated risk and protective factors so as to reduce the risk that a person will engage in sexually aggressive behaviour.1,7 Most of these strategies are aimed at preventing sex offenders who are known to the authorities from reoffending.3,5

Child maltreatment prevention programs

  • Since maltreatment in childhood has been associated with a greater risk of being a perpetrator (or a victim) of sexual assault, experts presume that programs to prevent child maltreatment have the potential to prevent sexual assault later in life.5
  • These programs are implemented so that action can be taken early on to prevent child maltreatment and neglect, primarily through home visitation and parenting education programs designed to enhance parents’ knowledge and parenting skills.5
  • Even though early childhood home visitation and parenting education programs are some of the most promising strategies for preventing child maltreatment, they have not been evaluated as to their efficacy in preventing people from engaging in sexually aggressive behaviour later in life.5

School-based prevention programs

  • Prevention programs have been implemented in schools to promote the development of social and emotional skills. These programs are intended to counter the development of individual risk factors, like impulsiveness, lack of empathy and poor social skills, which are associated with the emergence of behaviour problems and the perpetration of violence.5
  • By fostering prosocial behaviour and the development of social and emotional skills (e.g. the ability to solve problems, resolve conflicts, manage anger, communicate, and show empathy), these programs have proven to be effective at increasing the competencies needed to prevent certain forms of violence. However, their effectiveness in preventing sexually aggressive behaviour during adolescence or later on in life has not been demonstrated.5

Effectiveness of prevention programs

There is still a lack of knowledge about the effectiveness of many sexual assault prevention strategies. Nonetheless, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said that violence, including sexual assault, is far too pressing a problem for preventive action to be delayed until we have a thorough understanding of it.6

Dating violence prevention programs

  • Programs are also offered to young people in secondary school to prevent various forms of sexual assault and violence committed or experienced in dating relationships, including sexual violence. These programs are used in schools mainly to promote egalitarian relationships between men and women and prevent adolescent dating violence.
    • Several organizations, particularly assistance centres for victims of sexual assault (CALACS), offer sexual assault prevention workshops in secondary schools in their respective regions.
    • The STOP! Program (for young people 14-16 years old)12 and the PASSAJ program (for young people 16-17 years old)13 have also been implemented in several schools in Québec. A recent evaluation of the STOP! Program indicated that this program helps above all to change young people’s attitudes towards violence in couples and, to a lesser extent, to increase their knowledge in this regard.13,14 An evaluation study of the PASSAJ program, which is intended for older adolescents, demonstrated that students who take part in this program have better attitudes toward and are better informed about dating violence in the short term than students who do not follow the program.15 For more information on the STOP! and PASSAJ programs, visit their websites.
  • Various programs to prevent adolescent dating violence have been implemented in schools in North America. A few evaluation studies have shown that these programs are indeed effective at preventing violence in adolescent couples; however, the results are mixed with regard to their ability to reduce sexual violence (sexual assault) in such couples.8 Nonetheless, experts believe that these programs that are effective in preventing violence in adolescent dating relationships could also prevent sexual assault in adulthood.8

Recidivism prevention programs

  • Most of the strategies put in place to prevent sexually aggressive behaviour have focused on programs to prevent sex offenders already known to the authorities from reoffending.4
    • There is a lack of consensus about the efficacy of treatments to prevent sex offenders from reoffending. Further evaluation of existing treatments is required to better understand their effects.3,4 That being said, evaluations of some of the more recent treatments for adults have shown that they are associated with a significant reduction in recidivism.3 
 
 

References

  1. Bergeron, M. and Hébert, M. (2011). La prévention et la formation en matière d’agression sexuelle contre les enfants. In M. Hébert, M. Cyr, and  M. Tourigny, eds., L’agression sexuelle envers les enfants Tome 1 (pp. 445-494). Québec: Presses de l’Université du Québec. (Available in French only)
  2. Tourigny, M., Hébert, M., Paquette, G. and Simoneau, A.C. (2009). Prévention et traitement en matière de violence à caractère sexuel envers les enfants. In M.È. Clément and S. Dufour, eds., La violence à l’égard des enfants en milieu familial (pp. 161-174). Anjou: Éditions CEC. (Available in French only)
  3. Hanson, K.R. and Broom, I. (2005). The utility of cumulative meta-analysis: Application to programs for reducing sexual violence. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 17(4): 357-373.
  4. Seto, M.C. (2008). Pedophilia and sexual offending against children: Theory, assessment and intervention. Washington (DC): American Psychological Association.
  5. World Health Organization (WHO). (2010). Violence Prevention. The Evidence. Series of briefings on violence prevention. Geneva: World Health Organization.
  6. Dahlberg, L.L. and Krug, E.G. (2002). Violence – a global public health problem. In E.G. Krug, L.L. Dahlberg, J.A. Mercy, A. Zwi and R. Lozano-Ascencio, eds., World report on violence and health (pp. 1-21). Geneva: World Health Organization.
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2004). Sexual Violence Prevention: Beginning the Dialogue. Atlanta, GA.
  8. World Health Organization (WHO), London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. (2010). Preventing intimate partner and sexual violence against women. Taking action and generating evidence. Geneva: World Health Organization.
  9. Finkelhor, D. (2009). The Prevention of Childhood Sexual Abuse. The Future of Children, 19(2): 169-194.
  10. Chamberland, A. (2003). Évaluation des effets du volet information et sensibilisation du programme Jeunes en action contre la violence sexuelle (J'AVISE), Master’s thesis, Québec: Université Laval. (Available in French only)
  11. Daigneault, I., Michaud, F., Hébert, M., Caron, L., and P. McDuff (2011). Rapport des effets à court et à moyen terme des profils d’apprentissage et de la satisfaction des participants à l’atelier de prévention de l’agression sexuelle offert par Viol-Secours aux adolescents de 4e et 5e secondaire de la région de la Capitale-Nationale. Québec: Agence de la santé et des services sociaux de la Capitale-Nationale, Direction régionale de santé publique; Montréal: Université de Montréal, Département de psychologie. (Available in French only)
  12. Lavoie, F., Hotton-Paquet, V., Laprise, S. and Joyal Lacerte, F. (2009). ViRAJ- Programme de prévention de la violence dans les relations amoureuses chez les jeunes et promotion de relations égalitaires. Guide d’animation. 2nd revised edition. Québec: Université Laval. (Available in French only)
  13. Lavoie, F., Pacaud, M.C., Roy, M. and Lebossé, C. (2007). PASSAJ – An awareness and prevention program for teens (16-17 years old) focusing on abuse in dating relationships and sexual harassment. 2nd revised edition. Québec: Université Laval.
  14. Trotta, V., Lavoie, F., Perron, G., and Boivin, S., (2011). Évaluation de ViRAJ. Rapport Technique no. 1. Impact du programme révisé de prévention de la violence dans les couples adolescents chez des élèves de 15 et 16 ans : leurs attitudes et leur sentiment d’efficacité. Unpublished document. Québec: Entraide-Jeunesse Québec. (Available in French only)
  15. Lavoie, F., Boivin, S., Trotta, V., and Perron, G. (2011). Évaluation de ViRAJ. Rapport technique no. 2. Impact du programme révisé de prévention de la violence dans les couples adolescents chez des élèves de 15 et 16 ans : leurs connaissances, l’effet du passé de violence et analyse fine des changements d’attitudes. Unpublished document. Québec: Entraide Jeunesse Québec. (Available in French only)
  16. Canadian Centre for Child Protection. (2011). Child Sexual Abuse: It is Your Business. Brochure.
  17. Ullman,S. (2007). A 10-year update of “Review and Critique of Empirical Studies of Rape Avoidance”. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 34:411-429.