Grant to Help Professor Expand Sexual Assault Prevention Program

A public health professor at Georgia State University has won a federal Small Business Technology Transfer grant to partner with an Atlanta-based startup and expand a web-based sexual assault prevention program that she developed.

Dr. Laura Salazar, professor of Health Promotion and Behavior at the School of Public Health at Georgia State University, is the principal investigator on the grant funded by the National Institutes of Health. Salazar, who developed the interactive Real Consent program, is partnering with Behavioral Science Technologies to develop new modules aimed at college-aged women.

Dr. Laura Salazar

Dr. Laura Salazar

The Injury Center at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has conducted systematic reviews of such programs, and found that Real Consent is one of only three in use in the United States that have proven they are effective in preventing the perpetration of sexual violence.

The initial set of six, half-hour modules present scenarios and guide participants through discussions around understanding and obtaining consent in intimate situations, and how to recognize and intervene to prevent sexual assault. The existing modules are focused on male college students and are designed to help young men develop empathy for rape victims, to have the skills to intervene when necessary and to understand the potential legal risks of having sex when one or both partners have been drinking alcohol or using drugs. “It’s not focused on ‘men are rapists,’ ”Dr.  Salazar noted.

The new funding, a little more than $1.15 million over three years, is designed to support new modules aimed at female college students to help reduce their risk for an assault and which would focus on communication skills, building a supportive network that could intervene and understanding the role of alcohol use as a major factor for increasing women’s risk.

Numerous campus climate surveys have found that about 20 percent of college women have experienced sexual violence. Universities are looking for programs that can be used to educate incoming freshmen and new staff about the issue, and they need programs for both male and female students. Testing of the new modules would take place on three major public and private university campuses in Georgia.

Dr. Salazar said she hopes a new, comprehensive program, can help to open dialogues on college campuses and reduce the number of sexual assaults nationwide.

“Too many young men and women don’t have the skills to talk about sex with each other. For many, the social pressures in college can be overwhelming and when you add alcohol to the mix, the lines around what is and isn’t acceptable can get blurry. It’s so important for women and men to understand how alcohol contributes and to have the skills to avoid situations that may end badly.”

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