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Researchers Report Empowerment Program can Reduce Incidence of Rape

Update Date: Apr 14, 2014 03:07 PM EDT
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In a new study, researchers set out to examine the effectiveness of an empowerment program in reducing the incidence of rape for adolescent girls living in the slums of Kenya. The team from Stanford University School of Medicine, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford and the nongovernmental organization, Ujamaa-Africa/No Means No Worldwide, found that teaching girls how to stand up for themselves could lower their risk of getting raped.

"This study in very poor neighborhoods in Africa demonstrated that there is a very high baseline rate of gender-based violence, but a simple intervention empowers girls to take responsibility for protecting themselves, and this leads to a major decrease in violence against those girls," said senior author of the study Yvonne Maldonado, MD, a professor of pediatrics at Stanford and chief of pediatric infectious diseases at the children's hospital, reported by Medical Xpress.

For this study, the researchers focused on helping adolescent girls from Nairobi, Kenya's capital. They recruited 2,406 girls between the ages of 13 and 20 to participate in the study, which involved the low-cost empowerment program. 1,978 girls were randomly assigned to the program, which taught them how to use different verbal and physical techniques to fend of any kinds of harassment. The program included 12 hours of training over the span of six weeks. There were also refresher courses at three, six and 10-months. The program lasted 10.5 months. The remaining 428 girls in the control group had a standard 90-minute life-skills class.

The researchers found that the program was effective and prevented 817 assaults and 957 harassment situations. 52.3 percent of the girls from the empowerment-training group stated that they were able to fend off rape. 45 percent had used newly learned verbal tactics and 25 percent had used physical skills in fending off an assault. 30 percent used both techniques. In terms of harassment, which included comments, whistles or gestures made with sexual intent, 59 percent of the girls from the training program used verbal skills, 26 percent used verbal and physical skills and 15 percent used physical skills only.

The incidence of rape fell for the girls who received training from 17.9 per 100 person-years to 11.1 per 100 person-years. The researchers had used person-years as the measurement because the questionnaires that the girls answered before and after the study involved different lengths of time. The researchers also noted that girls who received training were more likely to report assaults and receive medical attention.

"This is the first time anyone's proven they could decrease the incidence of rape with a low-cost, simple intervention," said Jake Sinclair, MD, who co-founded No Means No Worldwide.

"Clearly, girls should never be placed in these situations in the first place," said Clea Sarnquist, DrPH, the study's lead author and a senior research scholar in pediatrics at Stanford. "But with such a high prevalence of rape, these girls need something to protect them now. By giving them the tools to speak up and the knowledge that 'I have domain over my own body,' we're giving them the opportunity to protect themselves."

The study was published in Pediatrics.

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