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April 7, 2003

Fewer abuses of deaf at RIT

From: Democrat and Chronicle, NY - Apr 7, 2003

Study says school campaign has cut down on sexual assaults

By Matthew Daneman
Democrat and Chronicle

(April 7, 2003) — Sexual victimization of students, particularly deaf and hard of hearing students, has dropped at Rochester Institute of Technology since the school launched a sizable prevention campaign, according to a new study.

The campaign, which started last spring, focused on teaching students that the vast majority of their peers don’t force the issue when a date or companion says “no” to sex.

“We knew there was a gap between perception and reality,” said Julie White, director of RIT’s Women’s Center and one of the study’s authors. “We wanted to educate students that, ‘Hey, most of you are doing this.”’

Sexual assault, particularly of women, is an issue colleges nationwide are dealing with. Nationwide, as many as 5 percent of college women are the victims of rape or attempted rape in a given year, according to a 2000 study by the National Institute of Justice.

RIT’s effort is one of the few examples in research literature where a sexual assault intervention program has resulted in fewer assaults, according to the study.

The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, and preliminary results were published in the February Report on Social Norms. Since 1999, RIT has received $900,000 from the Justice Department for research and programs dealing with preventing violent crimes against women on campus, with a particular focus on the deaf and hard of hearing population.

There has been little research into sexual assaults among the deaf population, though previous studies have suggested children who are deaf or hard of hearing are more at risk for sexual abuse than children with other disabilities or no disabilities.

The other authors of the study are LaVerne McQuiller Williams, an assistant professor of criminal justice; and Diana Cho, a student development coordinator for RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf.

The research began in spring 2000 with a survey of 954 RIT students, including 175 deaf and hard of hearing students. That baseline survey indicated that, among deaf and hard of hearing students, between 9 and 10 percent of males and of females said they’d experienced attempted or actual sexual intercourse against their will in the past year.

The second stage of the study featured a campaign to teach students misconceptions and realities about sexual activity. The campaign used a variety of tools, such as student-designed posters, live performances and video presentations, T-shirts, and talks to the deaf Greek community and to deaf freshmen, Cho said.

Communication has been one key hurdle to the effort, White said.

Cho, who is deaf, helped the researchers understand that some terms, such as “sexual activity,” are not meaningful to many deaf students, White said.

That necessitated a retooling of some aspects of the campaign to different terminology, she said.

Then, last spring, RIT surveyed 987 students, including 194 deaf and hard of hearing, as a follow up.

The number of deaf and hard of hearing women who reported attempted sexual intercourse against their will in the previous year dropped to 2 percent, while the number who reported actual intercourse against their will dropped to 4 percent. For males, rates for both dropped to 1 percent.

Researchers still have to do focus groups to ascertain how much of the change is due to fewer incidents and how much is due to better comprehension by students.

Since the campaign began, White said, students have been actually reporting more sexual assaults or attempted assaults to authorities or campus counselors -- which likely indicates not more incidents, she said, but people more willing or more knowledgeable to come forward and report the attack.

The researchers now are going over responses from the student body at large to that second survey.

The preliminary numbers there also seem to show a notable decrease in incidents, White said.

The researchers are retooling the educational campaigns for next school year, for both deaf and hearing students, White said.

Copyright 2003 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.