Personal Safety Classes – Research Paper

Abstract – The main purposes of this study is to determine whether or not a personal safety class given to female freshmen would decrease the amount of sexual coercion on campuses and also the amount of revictimization of child sexual abuse (CSA) survivors

on campuses. We will study a sample of 300 female college students. Selection of the experimental group will be completely up to those 150 students who decide to register for this class. The 150 students who register for this class will be exposed to the education of the prevalence of sexual coercion on campuses and also to a class on self-defense and personal well being. We will use a post-test only quasi experimental design and expect to find that those students who took part in the experimental group will experience less sexual coercion on campus.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, child sexual abuse consists of the performance of a sexual act by an adult on a child. Child sexual abuse (CSA) can be put on a continuum with behaviors ranging from the extreme of penetrating the child’s vagina or anus to the less extreme behavior of fondling the child’s genitalia. Within this continuum lies behavior such as having the child fondle the adult genitalia, having the child perform oral sex on the adult or vice versa, the rubbing of adult genitalia on the body of the child or simply showing the adult genitalia to the child, and lastly using the child for pornography or showing the child pornography (2000). Although the exact statistics of child sexual abuse are hard to calculate with the lack of interviewing children under the age of 12, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that of the reported sexual assault victims 67% were under the age of 18 while 34% were under the age of 12.

With such a prevalence of CSA in our communities a tremendous amount of research has been done on this subject. CSA survivors are at risk for long term effects such as depression, post traumatic stress, and anxiety (Banyard, Arnold, & Smith, 2000). Along with the depression it is also seen that CSA survivors will have a low self-esteem (Vigil, Geary, & Byrd-Craven, 2005).

Although the effects of this abuse range from problems such as depression to suicide attempt and substance abuse to relationship problems our initial interest was led in the direction of problems with interpersonal relationships and chances of revictimization, particularly those through out the college years, an area in great need of further research (Merril, Guimond, Thomsen, & Milner, 2003). Interpersonal relationship problems could range any where from the avoidance of relationships to the acceptance of abuse in relationships. This is one of the areas where CSA’s long term-conflicts will be seen (Alexander, 1992). According to researchers revictimization involves any abuse in adulthood sexual or physical to the victim of a previous sexual abuse experience (Messman-Moore, Long, & Siegfried, 2000).

According to research there are four categories of the dynamics of trauma left on the CSA survivor that carry over into adulthood. These dynamics are betrayal, sexualization, powerlessness, and stigmatiaztion (Davis & Petretic-Jackson, 2000). Although some of these dynamics appear more often than others, we believe all of these play a crucial part in the interpersonal relationship of the CSA survivior. Our personal safety class will attempt to diminish the presence of most characteristics of each.

Betrayal being the most salient causes a tremendous damper on the child’s interpersonal functioning as an adult. This is so because growing up a child is taught to trust adults and that trust is an extremely important part of the development process. Once this child is abused that trust is destroyed ultimately causing an overlap of childhood mistrust to adulthood mistrust. How the adult handles these feelings can manifest in a few ways: trusting the wrong people, becoming very angry as an adult causing problems in relationships; or possibly avoid intimacy altogether (Davis & Petretic-Jackson, 2000; Testa, VanSile-Tamsen, & Livingston, 2005).

The behaviors a young adult may have after experiencing CSA can involve traumatic sexualization. This causes the child to develop associations with sex that are incorrect. If a child remembers high levels of fear during CSA this child will then be conditioned to fear sex and sex will be associated with negativity. This child may then lead to an adult behavior of avoiding sex and intimate relationships. On the other hand if a child remembers the rewards they were given during CSA this child will develop a positive conditioned response to sex. Adults who experienced this type of CSA will more likely become promiscuous associating sex with non-sexual needs. This becomes relevant to my research in that those women who have multiple sexual partners are more likely to be sexually victimized, or revictimized (Merril et al., 2003; Davis & Petretic-Jackson, 2000; Meston & Heiman, 2000).

Powerlessness often manifests when the child learns that no matter what they do they cannot stop what happens or has happened to them. Since this feeling of powerlessness is associated with the lack of assertiveness it is likely that maladaptive behaviors will be present in their interpersonal relationships. This feeling of lack of power and control may also put the CSA victim at risk for revictimization because they expect to be harmed and feel as if they cannot control what happens to their bodies. These thoughts and feelings unintentionally allow the next perpetrator to do as he pleases and increasing the victim’s chance of revictimization (Davis & Petretic-Jackson, 2000; Kallstrom-Fuqua, Weston, & Marshall, 2001; Messman-Moore et al., 2000).

Stigmatization is also a visible dynamic in CSA victims. Stigmatization involves the child relating negativity to their self-image based on the negative connotations that were present during the experience of CSA (Davis & Petretic-Jackson, 2000). Since CSA is a predictor for negative self-evaluation in these women, we would then infer that these women are more likely to take the abuse of a partner feeling as if they deserve it (Vigil et al., 2005).

Since it is evident that CSA can carry over causing revictimization in adult relationships, and we are most interested in the female college sample, knowing the prevalence of rape and sexual assault on the college campus would be needed. Rape occurs when sexual intercourse occurs with out prior consent. The man may force himself on the conscious woman or penetrate a woman who is unconscious and unable to give consent. Sexual assault does not need to involve sexual intercourse. Sexual assault involves any form of sexual contact that was unwanted which involves anal and oral sex, penetration by an inanimate object, or simply just the touching of ones genitalia to the body of the victim for sexual arousal (Rape Treatment Center, 2002). According to National Statistics for 2003-2004 there were 204,370 victims of rape and sexual assault. Of that number 95,420 were sexual assault, 65,510 were actual rapes, and 43,440 were attempted rapes. Friends and acquaintances made up the majority of the perpetrators of these women (Catalano, 2005).

Although the statistics are there for reported rape and sexual assault there are many victims out there that may have not considered their experience rape or assault when in all reality it was. Therefore it is important for us to know what a college woman is going to consider rape or improper sexual relations in order to prevent improper sexual coercion on the college campus. In a study done by Kahn it is shown that when the victim’s experience involves a romantic partner they are hesitant on labeling this experience as sexual assault or rape. Kahn’s research consists of eight different assault situations that may be found on the college campus. These situations consist of submitting to a boyfriend, childhood assault, forced sex acts, being emotionally needy, a dominating boyfriend, a forceful acquaintance, being asleep or tricked, or severe impairment (2004).

Submitting to a boyfriend was less likely to be labeled as sexual assault for it involved a woman who repeatedly told her boyfriend no but after continuous demands for sex gave in. Childhood sex acts, much like already discussed, involved sexual acts while the woman was younger. Forced sex acts did not involve sexual intercourse but rather then was the force of a woman to perform or receive oral sex. An emotionally needy situation was most likely to occur when a woman was vulnerable, perhaps after a severe breakup with a boyfriend. In this situation again, the woman does not want to have sex and tells the man so, but due to her vulnerability and need to feel wanted, along with the man’s continuous requests she gives in. Dominating boyfriend is a situation that may occur when the boyfriend of the woman is a lot bigger and stronger than her. In this situation the woman does not want to have sex and the boyfriend forces himself on her. A forceful acquaintance is much like that of a dominating boyfriend, except the woman does not have a prior sexual relationship with the man who is told no yet forces himself upon her. Asleep or tricked is simply the situation when the woman does not know that the man is having intercourse with her. Finally, there is severe impairment, where the woman is intoxicated or on drugs and not in the right state of mind to make a decision whether or not she wants to have sex, leaving her with the inability to resist the perpetrator (Kahn, 2004).

Although all of Kahn’s situations of sexual assault would not hold up in court as rape, they all involve situations where the woman did not want to take part in the sexual acts. However, naïve to what encounters improper sexual assault, very few of these women labeled their experiences as assault or rape. The women who were forced by a stranger or were not aware of the sex were those who considered it rape (2004). This leaves a wide range of sexual assault victims who are not considering themselves victims who need intervention and education to prevent these forms of sexual coercion from occurring on campuses.

All victimizations by a boyfriend are not reported and yet the reported victimization by a boyfriend in a study done by Smith, White, & Holland showed that, in their sample, 95% of perpetrators were either boyfriends or somebody the victim had known. This research also shows that by their fourth year of college 88% of women will be a victim of at least one form of physical or sexual assault. Another important aspect of this particular study was that those who were victims of CSA were more likely to experience a form of victimization in college (2003). We believe our intervention will be able to drastically decrease these statistics.

Since some of these situations may not legally be determined rape, but still address a problem we will use the term sexual coercion within our research. “This term includes behaviors legally identified as rape but is broad enough to include nonforceful coercion and actions that do not involve the genitals” (Adams-Curtis & Forbes, 2004, pg 98). This new definition will help fit in Kahn’s eight situations of assault in that this does not include a statement of agreement as consent. The reason for this is that the reasons for agreement are looked at. Reasons could be that the victim agrees because they fear their reputations being ruined by this person, they fear abandonment or harm, and this definition does not classify agreement under the influence of alcohol or drugs as consent (Adams-Curtis & Forbes, 2004).

Sexual Coercion on campuses is harder to determine because it very rarely involves a stranger forcing himself on the victim. The most salient forms of sexual coercion we will find on campuses involves the perpetrator being somebody the victim knows and in most cases alcohol is involved. Another problem exists in this type of sexual coercion. In some cases the woman had consented in prior sexual actions such as foreplay and then decides she no longer wants to go any further. Sometimes this message is not given to the man verbally and the man continues through with sexual intercourse (Adams-Curtis & Forbes, 2004). This I perceive as an instance where the woman will blame herself. Given this woman was a CSA victim in the past there may already be feelings unworthiness and helplessness. This in turn makes the victim passive and helpless in verbalizing not wanting the intercourse to occur (Banyard et al., 2000).

Another important element of sexual coercion occurring is being in an environment that does not stop it from happening. It is most likely that for this to occur when a woman allows herself to be alone with a man in a private setting much like a lot of college date settings. It is more likely to occur if the woman accepts a date at the man’s house rather than her own or a public setting or even if the man was the one doing the asking for the date. On the contrary woman who showed assertiveness and asked the man on the date were seen as sexually advancing herself making it okay for the man to engage in sexual coercion. Adding alcohol in to the mix of already misinterpreted wants causes sexual coercion risks to increase. Some men believe women are “fair game” while they are drinking causing even more danger for the intoxicated woman. This woman who is intoxicated will then in return not realize she is being taken advantage of and become sexually victimized (Adams-Curtis & Forbes, 2004).

With CSA victims being at highest risk among these college students for being revictimized an intervention is needed. When CSA victims are able to compare their stories with other victims healing relationships can be formed. These women will then stop blaming themselves. With social maladjustment being an experience of CSA survivors having a close-knit group she could freely talk to and be supported by would make a tremendous difference (Morgan & Cummings, 1999).

There has also been a movement to stop these incidents of sexual coercion on campuses. In my research I will take ideas from the Guidelines for a Prevention/Awareness Week. The researchers for these Guidelines found that college woman are more likely to become victims their freshman year, therefore that’s when our intervention will step in (Lee, Caruso, Goins, & Southerland, 2003). Including a personal safety class in the schedule of female freshman students will allow educators to address the risks of sexual coercion on campus. Since research has shown that CSA is an evident problem in our community along with sexual coercion on campuses and that CSA survivors are at highest risk of being victimized in college, clearly it could be reasoned that the next step of research should be that of determining possible preventions of the revictimization.

Prevention should include the education of the problem through pamphlets and fact sheets that tell of the evidence of sexual violence. This class will help in changing students views on sexual assault and may help in the woman realizing she is in a dangerous situation and fleeing or encourage those who are unable to flee to report the assault (Lee et al., 2003). We expect to find in our research that those students who had taken our personal safety class will be less likely to experience sexual coercion through her college years compared to those who did not take the class. This holding true will serve for evidence that such classes should be held on every campus freshman year in the prevention of sexual coercion and the prevention of revictimization of CSA survivors on college campuses.

Participants will be 300 incoming female freshman at Penn State University, who will range from 18-20 years (M=xx.xx, SD=x.xx). During orientation 150 seats in a Personal Safety Class (PSC) for 3 credits will be offered to these female freshman only. Students will be explained that this class is not mandatory but being offered to determine whether such a class will make a difference in the safety of college females. Students will randomly decide whether or not to choose this option making our research Quasi-experimental. Students choosing the PSC will be our experimental group, leaving non-participating students as the control group. The Institutional Review Board at Penn State University will have approved this study.

Sexual Coercion will be assessed with the Sexual Experiences Survey (SES) (Koss & Gidycz, 1985). This consists of 13 true or false questions measuring the presence of sexual intercourse with the presence of coercion, threat, and/or force. The survey will measure the presence of unwanted sexual encounters experienced by the woman. These encounters will range from kissing to rape and also include associations to different degrees of coercion, threat, and violence. Added into the survey there will be a few questions screening for unwanted encounters before the age of 18 by somebody at least 5 years older in which we will identify as CSA. We will group woman based on whether or not they were in the control group or experimental group. Within groups we will classify women based on their highest levels of coercion experienced. Then also look for a comparison in CSA between each group. This test has high levels of validity and reliability among our sample of adult women (Koss & Gidycz, 1985).

We will use the BarOn Emotional Quotient Inventory to assess emotional intelligence. This 133-item inventory will test the woman’s capabilities, competencies, and skills required to cope with environmental demands and pressures. Originally this test is used to evaluate the success of psychological intervention. However we will use this test to determine whether or not our experimental groups emotional intelligence differed from the control groups after intervention to prevent sexual coercion was administered. We will also then be able to determine if emotional intelligence is an underlying factor in sexual coercion on campuses by comparing the scores of the two groups. We will also then be able to tell whether or not CSA survivors have a higher level of emotional intelligence and whether or not our PSC had an effect on CSA survivors emotional intelligence.

Socio-demographic areas that will be measured are age, living arrangement, parent’s marriage status, and race.

During orientation the incoming female freshman will attend a lecture about campus safety and the risks of sexually inappropriate behavior. Then 150 of the 300 incoming female freshman at Penn State University will be offered a personal safety class. This class will involve educating students in improper sexual coercion, have a built in self-defense class once a month, and serve as an outlet for those who have experienced sexual abuse to talk about it and realize it was not their fault and does not have to happen again.

When these freshmen reach graduation they will then be given a 100-item questionnaire to be completed and turned in. Once turned in each participant will receive $10 for completing the questionnaire. We will then measure the amounts of sexual coercion and emotional intelligence. We will ask the respondents to respond to how often different levels of sexual coercion were present in their life on a labeling response scale with four options of occurrence (1) never, (2) rarely, (3) sometimes, and (4) frequently. We will then look at the respondents level of emotional intelligence corresponding with sexual coercion. Students will be asked to rate whether or not they believe certain situations are sexual coercion on a five point scale with 1 being strongly agree and 5 being strongly disagree. There will be a short survey at the end asking what we believe may be so demographic variables that may play a role.

At completion of these two surveys students will be explained that scores will be compared between those who had the personal safety class and those who did not to see if such a class makes a difference on college campuses. They will then be thanked for their time and given their $10.

A one-way MANOVA will be performed to determine whether levels of sexual coercion differ by levels of emotional intelligence. It is expected that greater levels of emotional intelligence are correlated with lower levels of sexual coercion.

Bivariate relationships will determine whether any of the socio-demographic variables are related to each other. Additional analysis will determine whether there is a relationship between socio-demographic variables and levels of sexual coercion and emotional intelligence. We will use a Spearman’s Rho to determine the relationships between the dependent variables (levels of sexual coercion and emotional intelligenct) and the socio-demographic variables.

Data will then be analyzed using a between-subjects analysis of variance. We will look at 4 groups (control group with prior CSA, control group without prior CSA, experimental group with prior CSA, and experimental group without prior CSA) and the different levels of sexual coercion and emotional intelligence for each. Percentages will also be reported. We expect participants in the control group with prior CSA to have the highest levels of sexual coercion and also the lowest levels of emotional intelligence. We hypothesize that members of the experimental group with CSA will have significantly higher levels of emotional intelligence and lower levels of sexual coercion than their peers with CSA in the control group.

We expect the results of this particular study to confirm that a personal safety class on campuses would significantly decrease the amount of sexual coercion found on the campus. We also expect our class to increase the students levels of emotional intelligence. Our study will show the importance of such a class and provoke the start of such classes across campuses nationwide.

Our study will show that such a class is extremely important for the well being of our CSA survivors. Our research will also show that a personal safety class on campus will benefit those who did not experience CSA. With sexual coercion being a problem on campuses we believe our research will open the eyes of those in charge of administering such a class.

Our research has some limitations, the methodology could not really determine the persons emotional intelligence prior to attending the personal safety class. We also believe that some students may not take the surveys seriously leaving room for falsified responses. Our research on the other hand leaves open tremendous possibilities for further research which is much needed in this area. Although many studies tell us about the effects of CSA not many have looked at ways to lower those effects and make it a more pleasant living experience for the CSA survivior.

Table 1

The effects a personal safety course on levels of sexual coercion of college females.

Group Means Standard Deviation
Personal safety with prior CSA XX.Y X.Y
Personal safety without prior CSA XX.Y X.Y
Control with prior CSA XX.Y X.Y
Control without prior CSA XX.Y X.Y
* p < .05 predicted References

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