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Program promotes safety through self-awareness

A University of Windsor professor hopes to expand the basic sexual assault awareness programs offered on Canadian campuses.

BY HILARY DUFF | AUG 17 2011

These initiatives, says psychology professor Charlene Senn, often involve little more than handing out informational pamphlets and a brief question-and-answer session and, in her view, don’t take an active enough role in keeping young women safe.

It was this passive approach that inspired Dr. Senn to create her “enhanced” program, which includes an intensive 12 hours of training over four sessions, including a final class that helps women to explore their own sexuality and to examine characteristics they want in future sexual partners.

Sexual assault awareness programs often emphasize defending oneself against an unknown assailant, but most sexual assaults against women are committed by men they
know. By being more aware of their bodies and desires, says Dr. Senn, these women are less likely to find themselves in a dangerous situation.

The enhanced program has already been delivered to more than 200 first-year female students at U of Windsor. This fall the program is expanding to the University of Guelph and University of Calgary as part of a five-year study, funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, to compare the effectiveness of the enhanced program to a standard program.

The goal, says Dr. Senn, is to have the enhanced program implemented eventually on campuses across the country. But one of the barriers may be cost: “Twelve hours [of programming] is expensive,” says Dr. Senn, but she’s convinced “that this programming will reduce the number of completed rapes on campus and that it’s something worth investing in.”

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