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    From #MeToo to #NeverHappened – sexual assault prevention programs that work
    April 30, 2018 | Melissa Reams

    Thanks to Mihai Surdu for the image!

    Most of the assaults that ignited and fueled the #MeToo movement were so heinous, it’s hard to imagine a prevention program that would have stopped them. Yet, research shows there are numerous individual- and societal-level interventions that reduce the incidence of sexual violence and the risk factors that lead to violence. Many of these interventions are effective primary prevention techniques, which means they prevent the assault from ever happening.

    Unfortunately, it seems that most of the sexual assault prevention and advocacy work in the US is relegated to a handful of organizations. Many of these organizations are overwhelmed by a continuous stream of sexual assault cases. These cases demand not only an immediate response, but long-term care and counseling for assault survivors, which often leaves little time or money for primary prevention.

    Yet, there’s no reason why other organizations can’t lighten their load and provide some of those prevention services. Any organization that works with youth or young adults has the power to change #MeToo to #NeverHappened for future generations.

    Consider the young people you work with. Statistically, 43% of those girls and young women will experience some type of sexual assault in her life and 1 in 5 will be raped. Of the boys and young men, 1 in 4 will become a victim of some type of sexual violence in his life.

    If you’re ready to change the statistics and create a new narrative for future generations, here are some programs you can implement in the schools and community-based organizations you work in.


    Safe Dates is an adolescent dating abuse prevention curriculum designed for middle school students of all genders. The curriculum consists of 10 50-minute sessions that can be delivered over a series of days or weeks and is designated as a Model Program by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

    The program’s goals are to:

    • Increase awareness of the difference between healthy and abusive dating relationships
    • Increase awareness of dating abuse, its causes and consequences
    • Equip students with the skills and resources to help themselves or friends in abusive dating relationships
    • Equip students with the skills to develop healthy dating relationships

    Evidence shows that students who participate in Safe Dates have a decreased incidence of both perpetration and victimization of physical violence, sexual violence, and dating abuse. Participants also exhibit reduced disruptive behaviors, including weapon carrying. Positive effects have been shown up to four years following program participation.

    There is a cost to purchase the curriculum but Hazelden Publishing will provide a grant writing toolkit to support organizations in applying for funding for the curriculum.


    Shifting Boundaries is a two-part dating violence prevention program for middle school students. There’s a classroom-based curriculum and a building-level component. The building-level component uses temporary school-based restraining orders, increased security and staff presence in student-identified violence hot-spots, and posters to increase awareness and reporting of violence and harassment.

    The program’s goals are to:

    • Increase knowledge and awareness of sexual harassment and teen dating violence
    • Promote negative views of violence and harassment
    • Encourage bystander intervention
    • Reduce the occurrence of dating and peer violence and sexual harassment

    Only the building-level component of Shifting Boundaries has been found to be effective at preventing sexual assault. An evaluation of both components showed the building intervention significantly lowered the incidence of sexual violence perpetration and victimization by peers and dating partners, and reduced the total incidence of violence by a dating partner.


    Bystander intervention programs aim to increase awareness of peer behaviors that may indicate a risk for sexual violence and help participants develop skills and strategies for intervening. Following the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, bystander programs have become increasingly common on college campuses, as the Act required all colleges to implement more sexual assault prevention programming.

    Although evidence is limited on the effects of bystander intervention programs on preventing sexual violence, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends both Green Dot and Bringing in the Bystander for bystander intervention training.

    Green Dot
    What started as a college bystander program, Green Dot has now expanded its offerings to include K-3, middle and high school, and community-level interventions. The program uses a variety of methods, including speeches, interactive activities to train participants in effective bystander behavior, and social marketing to increase awareness and acceptance of sexual assault prevention through bystanders.

    One Green Dot evaluation on a college campus found a reduced rate of sexual harassment and stalking victimization and perpetration. Additional research found similar results among Green Dot high school participants, who also showed a decrease in dating violence following the intervention.

    Bringing in the Bystander
    Bringing in the Bystander is an intervention workshop designed to teach bystanders how to safely intervene when they suspect the occurrence of or risk for sexual violence, relationship violence, or stalking. The workshop can be presented as a single 90-minute program or a comprehensive 2-session program covering 4.5 hours, both of which can be tailored to fit the cultural needs of each school or community.

    The program aims to help participants identify violent behaviors, develop empathy for those who have experienced violence, practice safe intervention skills, and commit to intervening in incidents of sexual abuse, relationship violence, and stalking.

    Evaluations of Bringing in the Bystander have shown participants have increased self-efficacy and intention to intervene when they suspect sexual and dating violence.


    Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) involves providing age- and developmentally-appropriate, objective, medically accurate information on all aspects of human sexuality. This includes anatomy, reproduction, sexually transmitted infections, consent, sexual orientation, gender identity, pleasure, abstinence, contraception, healthy relationships, communication, and reproductive rights. Although evidence on the impacts of CSE is primarily focused on sexual health outcomes, research suggests that it can prevent sexual violence by reducing high-risk sexual behavior, which is a known risk factor for sexual violence victimization and perpetration.

    If you’re interested in implementing a program that uses CSE, Advocates for Youth maintains a great list of evidence-based and promising CSE resources.


    Here are some additional resources for learning about how you can work towards preventing sexual assault in your organization or community:

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Technical Package to Prevent Sexual Violence

    National Sexual Violence Resource Center, Library Catalog

    American College Health Association, Shifting the Paradigm: Primary Prevention of Sexual Violence

    Culture of Respect, Ending Campus Sexual Violence

    Are you aware of other great resources that can help organizations end sexual assault?
    Please comment below to share!
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    Melissa Reams

    Hi! I'm Melissa, the Principal Consultant at Upstream Consulting. Learn more about how we help organizations make a bigger impact in their communities or read more about me and our other team members on our About Us page.

    Published by Melissa Reams

    Hi! I'm Melissa, the Principal Consultant at Upstream Consulting. Learn more about how we help organizations make a bigger impact in their communities or read more about me and our other team members on our About Us page.

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