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Open Access Study protocol

Sexual assault resistance education for university women: study protocol for a randomized controlled trial (SARE trial)

Charlene Y Senn1*, Misha Eliasziw23, Paula C Barata4, Wilfreda E Thurston35, Ian R Newby-Clark4, H Lorraine Radtke6, Karen L Hobden1 and SARE study team

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychology/Women’s Studies Program, University of Windsor, 401 Sunset Avenue, Windsor, Ontario N9B 3P4, Canada

2 Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, Tufts University, 136 Harrison Avenue, Boston, MA 02111, USA

3 Department of Community Health Sciences, University of Calgary, 3280 Hospital Drive NW, Calgary, Alberta T2N 4Z6, Canada

4 Department of Psychology, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario N1G 2W1, Canada

5 Department of Ecosystem and Public Health, University of Calgary, 3280 Hospital Drive NW, Calgary, Alberta T2N 4Z6, Canada

6 Department of Psychology, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive NW, Calgary, Alberta T2N 1N4, Canada

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BMC Women's Health 2013, 13:25  doi:10.1186/1472-6874-13-25

Published: 23 May 2013



More than one in six women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes, most by men they know. The situation on university campuses is even more startling, with as many as 1 in 4 female students being victims of rape or attempted rape. The associated physical and mental health effects are extensive and the social and economic costs are staggering. The aim of this randomized controlled trial is to determine whether a novel, small-group sexual assault resistance education program can reduce the incidence of sexual assault among university-attending women, when compared to current university practice of providing informational brochures.


The trial will evaluate a theoretically and empirically sound four-unit, 12-hour education program that has been demonstrated in pilot studies to have short-term efficacy. Three of the four units provide information, skills, and practice aimed at decreasing the time needed for women to assess situations with elevated risk of acquaintance sexual assault as dangerous and to take action, reducing emotional obstacles to taking action, and increasing the use of the most effective methods of verbal and physical self-defense. The fourth unit focuses on facilitating a stronger positive sexuality from which women may resist sexual coercion by male intimates more successfully. The trial will extend the pilot evaluations by expanding the participant pool and examining the long term efficacy of the program. A total of 1716 first-year female students (age 17 to 24 years) from three Canadian universities will be enrolled. The primary outcome is completed sexual assault, measured by The Sexual Experiences Survey - Short Form Victimization instrument. Secondary outcomes include changes in knowledge, attitudes, and skills related to the process of sexual assault resistance. Outcomes will be measured at baseline, 1 week, 6, 12, 18, and 24 months.


The results of the trial will be used to produce a maximally effective sexual assault resistance education program that can be adopted by universities, to assess whether aspects of the program need to be strengthened, and also to indicate how long the effects of the program last and at which point in time refresher sessions may be necessary.

Trial registration NCT01338428

Sexual assault; Rape; Resistance; Education; Intervention