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A worldwide teaching program to stop rape -The Asian Age


Tina Rosenberg

Ms. Rosenberg is a co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network, which supports rigorous reporting about responses to social problems.Second in a three-part series about solutions for sexual assault.

High rates of sexual assaults on college campuses get a lot of attention - and rightly so. But do you know what group has higher rates of sexual assault and rape than college women? College-age women who aren't in college.

These sexual assaults, unfortunately, don't get a lot of attention. One reason is that while college women gather in a place that's held responsible for their safety, non-college women are scattered. Probably more important, college women and their families tend to have more resources and power than women who didn't stay in school. Resources plus power equal attention.

This problem is global. Around the world, the poorer you are, the more likely you are to be raped. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, for example, Americans who had a household income of less than $7,500 per year reported being victims of sexual assault at 12 times the rate of people with a household income of $75,000 or more.

There are many reasons. Poor people everywhere are more vulnerable to every kind of exploitation. They are less able to make the law work for them. Drinking and drug abuse, both risk factors for rape, are more common. Poor women are often economically dependent on men.

They may live in a neighborhood where, in the absence of jobs and material possessions, a man's status depends on his aggression and toughness. The local culture may treat men as superior to women and therefore sexually entitled.

According to a large nationwide survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and The Washington Post, one in five women in college are sexually assaulted (including sexual touching) in the United States.

That's horrifying. But even more so is this: In some places, such as the slums of Nairobi, Kenya, each year one in four female adolescents are raped. And they will get neither justice nor counseling afterward.What can these women do to be safer? It turns out that it's the same thing college women can do.

In my last column, I wrote about Flip the Script, a 12-hour empowerment training course for college women. It was first used in three Canadian universities, and now it's spreading, including to schools in America. It is proven to cut rape by nearly half and attempted rape by two-thirds.

A very similar 12-hour course also works in the slums of Nairobi. It has been found again and again to cut the risk of rape substantially - in one study, by 63 percent.

Rape is so common in these neighborhoods that half the women and girls who took the course said they used what they learned to stop a rapist in the year after their training. A fifth of them used the skills more than once.

In 2006, Lee Paiva, an artist from San Francisco, was working in Korogocho, a Nairobi slum, in a program to help families taking care of AIDS orphans.

Her translator began telling her about the people on the street: "This girl was raped at knife point, this child is a rape baby, this girl is HIV-positive from rape by her father, this is where a grandmother died after being gang-raped, this woman's baby was raped …."Ms. Paiva was stunned. She was a survivor of sexual violence herself and had taken a women's self-defense and empowerment class.

"That class would be lifesaving here," she said. She paid to bring her martial arts teachers to Kenya to train local people to teach self-defense.But she also wanted to do something bigger. She established No Means No Worldwide, which created courses for adolescent girls, and later, for boys.

The Kenyan organization Ujamaa Africa teaches the courses, employing 81 trainers, mostly in schools in Nairobi's major slums. They also now teach it in Malawi, South Sudan and Somalia, and in refugee camps. One huge advantage is that it's cheap: No Means No claims it costs $7.44 to prevent a rape.

Uganda is next - and the United States. In September, No Means No will train women on the Rosebud Lakota Sioux reservation in South Dakota to teach the course. (Native American women experience sexual assault at a far higher rate than other ethnic groups - and a vast majority of the assaulters are not Native Americans.) It will also train six master trainers, who will travel the globe, training others. The organization plans to do the same with men the following year.

No Means No's course teaches women and girls ages 10 to 20 that most sexual assaults are committed by someone they know, and how to identify risk early, how to say no effectively, how to run away - and if words fail, how to use physical self-defense. That's also the curriculum of Flip the Script.

Unlike Flip the Script, however, No Means No trains both genders. The course for boys 10 to 13 years old and one for ages 14 to 19 seek to transform their views of women and of masculinity.

The boys and men are taught that women own their bodies and that rape and sexual harassment are not acceptable. They learn bystander intervention: to recognize when girls or women are in trouble and how to intervene at various stages - by making disapproving gestures, causing a commotion or even negotiating with a rapist who has begun an attack.

Teachers role-play scenarios. For example, a boy is hanging out with friends who are making sexual comments to girls as they pass. One teacher demonstrates his disapproval, through gestures or words. Then the boys practice the skill.

"We are socialized that it's not my responsibility to intervene," said Benjamin Omondi Mboya, the executive director of Ujamaa. "So the boys' training is called Your Moment of Truth - I'm the agent of change that can help. I have the skills and I can intervene."

Often what works, he said, is: "This is someone's sister, someone's mother. What if it was your sister?""Some people don't know it's not right until you tell them," said Collins Omondi Ooko (no relation), who runs the boys' program.

I asked Mr. Omondi Ooko why rape is so common - why boys think it's O.K. "They grew up in an environment where they're seeing this happening," he said - the same environment he grew up in.

"Sexual harassment, violence - no one's talking about it. Slum houses are so close to each other. If something happens to a neighbor, you actually see and hear it.

You start doing things because of the influence of the environment."Peer pressure is a major factor. "Their friends pressure them to do some things, and they want to fit in the community," he said.

Mr. Mboya had a different answer. "Rape is that high because people can get away with it," he said. "It's all about controlling and dominating women.

But it also happens because people can actually get away with it and no one does anything about it. We have laws, but they're not very well implemented."If there is no legal consequence, then it's important to create a social consequence.

The bystander education is effective. Boys and men in the course who later witnessed a sexual assault were able to intervene successfully three-quarters of the time - double the rate of those who didn't take the course.

The course for girls and women teaches them to identify danger and get themselves out. "You have to assess," said Nancy Omondi (no relation), program coordinator and master trainer for that program. "The main goal is to get away. You can lie, fake compliance, make a scene, call for help. Name the behavior: 'Stop touching my breast.' If you are locked in a room you have to negotiate your way out - 'I'll give you my phone.'

"The man thinks, 'This is a naïve girl I'm taking advantage of.' He is not expecting her to defend herself. In our society, girls are told to be nice. Most of the girls, even the women, didn't think they have the right to say no without feeling guilty."

No Canadian or American college woman could possibly think that, right? No, wrong. This is one of the most empowered group of women that has ever lived. But to a certain extent, many do think that way. They are socialized not to offend, to not make a scene, to go along. That's especially true when the attacker is an acquaintance whom they must keep seeing.

Sexual aggression takes numerous forms - they vary even among the different slums of Nairobi, Ms. Omondi said: "In Korogocho, the students related very well when you talk about indecent touching. When you go to Huruma, they relate to name-calling and abusive language. In Kibera, it's that someone blocks your path and doesn't let you get through."

And in Ontario, it might begin with not taking no for an answer. In Florida, "Let's go for a drive." And everywhere in North America, "Have another few drinks."

But the way for women to save themselves does not seem to differ: Recognize your local danger signs. Understand that women have been socialized from birth to be docile and yielding. Speak forcefully. If all else fails, fight back.

"This is a worldwide problem - one in three women," said Jennifer Keller, clinical associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine.

"Many issues underlying it are very similar." She participates in both programs - she studies No Means No and is helping to bring Flip the Script to Stanford.Could one basic strategy work everywhere? Dr. Keller said that while the idea of a universal intervention needs research, it's very possible.

"I think there are some inherent strengths in an empowerment approach," said Clea Sarnquist, a senior research scholar in pediatrics at Stanford who has studied No Means No.

"Some days it's still surprising to me that young women coming onto a campus like Stanford wouldn't have a belief in themselves as strong and be ready to defend themselves. We don't do a great job anywhere in the world of teaching young women that it's O.K. to stand up for themselves in lots of different ways. "


The writer is an American journalist and the author of three books.