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Research Blog: Teaching Men Rape Prevention Actually Works

by Christin Bowman

**Trigger warning. This blog is about sexual violence.**

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been thinking about the Steubenville rapes for a while now. You’ve seen the horrific details of the crime, the multiple sad excuses for journalism, and the even more disturbing public outrage when the rapists got what they had coming. You’ve tried to boost your ever-depleting faith in humanity by clinging to superfab feminist responses like this one that cringes over the sickening media coverage of the trial, this one addressing rape culture, or this one about teaching our sons not to rape. But possibly my favorite feminist response to this atrocity came from political analyst Zerlina Maxwell.

In case you missed it, on March 5th, Zerlina Maxwell, a rape survivor herself, appeared on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News. The segment was centered around the idea that the solution to rape is simple – just give women guns! *Facepalm* Maxwell disagreed, and instead made one of the most obvious (and brilliant) arguments about the kind of rape prevention we really need in this country. Here’s what she said:

“I think that the entire conversation is wrong. I don’t want anybody to be telling women anything. I don’t want men to be telling me what to wear and how to act, not to drink. And I don’t, honestly, want you to tell me that I needed a gun in order to prevent my rape. … I think we should be telling men not to rape women and start the conversation there with prevention.”

This is what I like to call a “duh” moment – you mean we should direct rape prevention toward rapists? Who would’ve thought! (Obviously not Sean Hannity, if you watch his response, or the droves of people who sent Maxwell rape and death threats after the show).

Lots of people seem positively astonished at the idea that men could be taught not to rape. But what does the research show? Well, to start with, ad campaigns like the ‘Don’t Be That Guy’ campaign (see the picture here) in Vancouver have cut sexual assaults by previously unheard-of amounts. But Maxwell’s message could be taken even further – what if men could actually take a class that teaches them about rape and how to prevent it?

Sound outlandish? For sure. The crazier thing, though, is that research shows it works.

Researchers John Foubert, Eric Godin and Jerry Tatum[1] decided to stop rape at the source – the men who commit rape or stand by and do nothing to stop it. First, they took a close look at a rape-prevention class male college freshmen were required to take. The class started by showing the men a DVD that detailed a male-on-male rape experience. Focusing on a male victim helped the men in the class start to imagine how being a victim of rape might actually feel. Once the men started to feel empathy toward rape survivors, they were told to close their eyes and imagine another horrific scene: a woman close to them has had too much to drink and is raped while someone stands by and does nothing. Just imagining your mother, sister, girlfriend or grandmother being raped hurts a lot – and this exercise helped the men feel even more empathy toward rape survivors. After the thought exercises, the men were given the chance to brainstorm about ways they could intervene if they saw a rape about to occur. They were also taught other valuable skills like how to spot true consent, how to support a rape survivor, and how to confront others who tell jokes about rape, demean women, or brag about abusing women.

I know what you’re thinking. “Sure, this all sounds great, but I bet those men forgot all they learned faster than my heart beats during a True Blood finale.” But it turns out the men who participated in this program were still affected by it years later! So, how could a program that only lasted about an hour work so well for so long?

Well, one of the most important parts of this particular training program was its emphasis on alcohol. Most of the rapes on college campuses involve alcohol,[2] so talking to men about alcohol-related situations is crucial. Years later, when the researchers asked these men about how their attitudes or behaviors had changed because of the program, nearly half (46%) talked about how they’d started to be more careful about sexual activity when alcohol was involved.[3]

But that’s not the only reason this class rocked the boat and stayed afloat. This program worked because it met men where they are. Most rapes are committed by regular guys, not scary-dark-alley-evil-monster-men-in-ski-masks. But most men don’t see themselves as potential rapists. So, what to do? This program tapped into something most men do think about themselves – that they have the potential to help others and to intervene in dangerous situations. Basically, it let men feel like heroes! Add to that the ways the program helped the men to imagine the pain and agony that accompany rape, and presto – a new squadron of rape-preventers is born.

Zerlina Maxwell isn’t crazy. She’s not out of touch or making things up. In fact, as the research shows us, she’s right on the money. The last thing women need is one more victim-blaming tool: “Oh, she didn’t have a gun with her, she must have wanted it.” Real rape prevention addresses the toxic rape culture that encourages men to view women as objects, to cover up reported rapes, and to laugh about this inexcusable violence against their sisters. And most importantly, real rape prevention really works.



[1] Foubert, J.D., Godin, E. E., Tatum, J. L. (2010). In their own words: Sophomore college men describe attitude and behavior changes resulting from a rape prevention program 2 years after their participation. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 25(12), 2237-2257.

[2] Lisak, D. & Miller, P. (2002). Repeat rape and multiple offending among undetected rapists. Violence and Victims, 17, 73-84.

[3] Foubert, J. D. et. al. (2010)

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32 Responses to “Research Blog: Teaching Men Rape Prevention Actually Works”

  1. Stump Beefgnaw says:

    What, you mean rape is a thing men choose to do and not some sort of natural disaster that just ~happens~ to women when they have too much to drink or wear a skirt that’s half an inch too short? WHODATHUNKIT

    (in before “butbutbut men get raped too, butbutbut women rape too” okay listen yes you are right but the vast, vast, VAST majority of rape is committed BY MEN AGAINST WOMEN and I do not recall ever seeing national media cover the trial of women accused of gang-raping a 16-year-old boy and bemoaning the ~ruined lives~ of the poor innocent rapists who got a 1-2 year slap on the wrist while their victim was getting DEATH THREATS.)

  2. Hamshire Bartleman says:

    Actually, Stump, the majority of rape is committed by men against men in prison. The person most likely to be raped in America is a black male, not a woman.

  3. Bambi Lobdell says:

    How can American campuses get this class????? Where do we find the curriculum?

  4. butbutbut says:

    Actually Stump, there is a much bigger problem with male on male rape in this country than people realize and some surveys and studies place the number of male rape victims in this country higher than the number of females, making the US the only country to see this phenomenon. So why don’t we EVER hear about this? Well, most of these men are in the prison system, and the Department of Justice doesn’t think those numbers are worth including in the national surveys. You say “I do not recall ever seeing national media cover the trial of women accused of gang-raping a 16-year-old boy…” but think honestly, when was the last time (apart from priest or teacher molestation) that you heard a story of a boy or man being raped PERIOD? It’s almost as if it doesn’t exist according to US media. In fact, up until just a few years ago, the term rape explicitly excluded men. Men who were by any other definition “raped” were by law classified as being victims of assault. I’m 100% for rape prevention as I know both men and women personally who have been victims. What I am not OK with is ignoring one side of a problem, sensationalism that casts shadows on real issues, and general misinformation. Rape is a problem for both sexes and the program mentioned above starts by also highlighting that fact which is something I commend.

  5. John Foubert says:

    Thank you for blogging out my article. If your readers would like to see this article or more like it, feel free to check out my website at http://works.bepress.com/john_foubert/

    John D. Foubert, Ph.D.
    National President
    One in Four

  6. Stump Beefgnaw,

    Why do you need to minimize what happens to male survivors or those of us raped by women in order to support female survivors? You do not have to speak so cavalierly about what we endure in order to help female survivors. When I spoke out about my raped at the hands of a woman, I was victim-blamed by THOUSANDS of horrible comments on multiple websites.

    You clearly know nothing about what male survivors endure. Please don’t profess to speak for our pain or tell us what happens to us when we speak out. You don’t know. You clearly don’t care.

    I went through hell and I still have panic attacks every time some hater decides it is time to mock me again.

    You have no idea. I wanted to die after the last round of hateful comments and mockery. How dare you establish a hierarchy of suffering and pain based on gender. Survivor experiences are individualized. Anyone who actually cares about the PEOPLE who have been raped would never trivialize or minimize the suffering of ANY rape survivor. That is just plain disgusting and inexcusable.

    • Kate says:

      How is it possible for a woman to rape a man? In order for sexual intercourse to occur, the man must have an erection – but if he’s in a dangerous and threatening situation, he would be so frightened that he wouldn’t be able to get an erection. This new obsession with men allegedly “raped” by women is just another scam perpetrated by the MRAs – a bunch of childish misogynists.

      • SPARKsummit says:

        This is actually not true. Erections are not just caused by arousal, and an erection is not consent. Sexual assault also does not need to involve PIV intercourse. We’re not down with MRAs either, but men can be and are victims of sexual assault at the hands of women, just not nearly as often as they are victims of sexual assault at the hands of other men.

        • Levi Ramsey says:

          Actually, according to the CDC, in most instances where men are forced into sex they don’t want (either by physical force (applied or threatened) or by intoxication), the perpetrator is a woman. See http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/NISVS_Report2010-a.pdf

          Among men reporting being raped (which for a male victim requires oral or anal penetration by a penis or anal penetration by fingers or other object), over 93% reported only being raped by men.

          Of course, under the category of “other sexual violence”, there’s “made to penetrate” which is defined as “times when the victim was made to or there was an attempt to make them sexually penetrate someone without the victim’s consent because the victim was physically forced, threatened with physical harm, or the victim was drunk, high, drugged, or passed out.” This is, of course, totally different from rape*…

          Of men reporting being made to penetrate, 79% reported only being made to penetrate by women. If we assume that no one reported being raped or made to penetrate by people of both genders, and further that everybody who reported a female rapist was also made to penetrate by a woman (the consequence of that pair of assumptions is to minimize the number of female perpetrators), we get the following:

          rape: 1.581 million male victims, 1.470 million by men, 0.111 million by women
          made to penetrate: 5.451 million male victims, 1.145 million by men, 4.306 million by women (of which, 0.111 million were also raped by women)
          Total: 6.921 million male victims, 2.615 million by men, 4.306 million by women

          Of course when we add in female rape victims (the number of women made to penetrate is rather small: the only instance is forced cunnilingus or analingus), the picture changes:

          21.840 million female victims, 21.425 million by men, 0.415 million by women

          Assuming no overlap by gender of victim, then:

          28.761 million victims, 24.040 million by men, 4.721 million by women

          I daresay that having a victim who was raped by a man as well as a victim who was made to penetrate by a woman might make the effort even more successful. It’s comparatively easy, I think, to say “well, I’ll just avoid going to prison (which for a mostly white university audience isn’t that hard) and stay away from gay guys who are stronger than me” (indeed, I think a major reason men tend to be more homophobic than women is a fear of being raped). If you have a man who was passing-out drunk and made to penetrate (perhaps the case where the perpetrator apparently got pregnant and the victim was made to pay child support), then that may just drive home that there’s no avoidance tactic that works and that the way to stop rape is to not have rapists raping people.

          Also, I think that a popular view tending to minimize female perpetrators (fed by patriarchy more than anything else by explicitly gendered laws or requiring substantial actual physical force… the further one gets from what Todd Akin would call “legitimate rape”, the more likely one is to find female perpetrators; that said, a fair number of, mostly second-wave, feminists use a gendered definition either because it jibes with a (generally Marxist) class analysis or simply due to unexamined patriarchal assumptions) implicitly sets up a dynamic where, as a consequence of the gender binary, the comparatively more restrictive definition of masculinity compared to femininity, and not a little bit of femmephobia, masculine is defined as not-feminine, to rape is about the most non-feminine thing one can do. From there it’s not much of a leap to thinking that a way that one can demonstrate his masculinity is by doing non-feminine things, and if it’s something that many men don’t do, it has the added benefit of asserting greater masculinity relative to other men. Things like “being a father” or “peeing standing up” fail on the second count (and in the second case, don’t necessarily do that great on the first count, either); it wouldn’t surprise me if a similar attitude underlies Steubenville and other incidents (it would account for the documenting of the act).

          Maybe the last paragraph is summarizable as: since society spends an awful lot of energy attacking things that women do, maybe that can be turned to work against rape?

          *: I suspect that underlying the reason for the distinction between rape (“completed or attempted vaginal, oral, or anal penetration through the use of physical force or threats to physically harm or when the victim is drunk, high, passed out, or otherwise unable to consent”) and made to penetrate (which is the same definition, only with the direction of penetration reversed…) is a consequence of defining penetrative sex as “real” sex and also not having a widely used word with an opposite grammar (A (subject) penetrates B (object), but B (subject) ??????? A (object)). “valprehend” (“grasp strongly”, which when one considers how muscular vaginas and anal sphincters are is quite fitting) is probably my favorite proposal in that direction, and allows for “rape by penetration” and “rape by valprehension”.

      • Really Kate? Erections = consent? Congratulations for throwing one of the biggest rape myths in the face of a male rape survivor. EVERY major survivor organization I’ve ever seen acknowledges that erections can be EASILY forced. You are rape apologist and this is completely unacceptable to say to a rape survivor.

        Kate, I was raped. The rapist was a woman. She forced an erection on my while I was unable to protect myself. Shame on you for claiming otherwise!

        You owe me and other male survivors an apology for that bit of rape apologism.

      • Kate, You used quote marks around the word raped. Do you know that is? Minimization, rape denial, promoting the concept of legitimate rape and co-signing of rape culture. I’ve lived with the PTSD and shame of being raped FOR 20 YEARS. How dare you get to decide that it didn’t happen because you don’t want to believe. I am so sick of rape apologists of ALL genders. It is disgusting and I expect an apology.

      • Jeanette Wittstein says:

        Kate, your comments make me sick. An erection does not equal consent. If you knew anything about the male body you’d know that men get unwanted erections, even when they are freaking out. Ask any teenage boy being told to do a math problem on the blackboard. I find MRA’s loathsome but I find you just as loathsome. This is despicable victim blaming.

      • Jeanette Wittstein says:

        By the way, Kate, many survivors of male-on-male rape experience involuntary erections during the assault due to the pressure on the prostate during anal penetration. Attitudes like yours only serve to increase the sense of shame that male-on-male rape survivors already experience.

    • splashy says:

      Fine, teach women not to rape either.

      I’m cool with that. Everyone needs to know not to rape, regardless.

  7. Rachel says:

    I think it’s great that the class described in the article is an actual, sit-down-in-person class. At my school, we were “required” to take an online mini-course about alcohol safety and it talked about what is consent and what isn’t (it was actually pretty informative and I thought it was worth the time), and it supposedly had to be taken before you could register for classes your first semester. However, I talked to several people who kind of laughed it off and didn’t actually take it, yet still were able to register for classes just fine. If schools are going to have a class like that, I just hope they make sure people actually take it. As for the issue of men being raped vs. women being raped, I think James said it best when he said PEOPLE. If we want to close the gender inequality gap, we can’t focus just on women. Even though they are usually the majority, and I definitely support education for those who think they can get away with injustice against women for no good reason, we can’t forget the minority in issues as serious as this. Equality means EVERYONE. People. Not just men or just women. Just saying.

  8. Sue H says:

    So typical – the usual male responses of ‘it happens to men too’. Yes it does and I have every sympathy for those who are attacked in prison (and elsewhere), but that’s not what this article is about. Stop trying to draw focus. If you want to write your own piece specifically about rape in male prisons do so. If you want to get some activism going regarding that issue I’m sure many people will support you, but stop trying to derail the arguments in the original article by pulling the focus away from female victims. It happens all the time and it’s getting very very tired. Not everything has to be about men.

    • Actually Sue, no one said A THING about male rape survivors until Stump made those minimizing comments about male survivors – NOT BEFORE. I’ve been through rape. I am a survivor. I have a right to be offended by someone telling me what happened is not important and that I wasn’t raped (ala Kate). Male survivors didn’t pop in here doing that, we defended ourselves from rape apologists and those who mock or minimize on the basis of gender.

      Why are you defending such rape apologists?

    • Jeanette Wittstein says:

      How dare you belittle a male survivor responding to a comment minimizing the experiences of male survivors. Mr. Landrith was defending himself from a rape apologist. If you find the idea of a survivor speaking out offensive, you need to do some serious self-examination.

  9. [...] Summit shows that teaching men not to rape does actually work at preventing [...]

  10. [...] I read this really great article that shows that teaching men not to rape is fundamental to preventing rape.  It targets young males just going to college and teaches them about what it means to be raped, and what to do if you think something bad is happening.  You can read the details of the article here. [...]

  11. Izzy says:

    Can we put this class online?

  12. Critical Thinker says:

    This piece rests on a false premise. John Foubert used biased and discredited research designed to promote a program he created and sponsors for commercial gain. As would be expected from anyone who names his business after the known false “one in four” statistic, he falsified the research and results to support his program.

    While teaching a different or more stringent definition of consent that gets people to think about things differently might cut down on some incidents that get counted as rape or sexual assault (I say “counted” because many numbers you see such as “one in four” or “one in six” are not based on what people actually experience but on what researchers with an agenda label as rape), they’re unlikely to address the real issue that most rapes are committed by a small percentage of offenders who typically engage in multiple assaults. They know what they’re doing is wrong, and they don’t care.

    Rather than “teaching men not to rape,” which’s ineffective, shaming, and demonizing, we should be teaching all people, regardless of gender identification, strength, self confidence, and an understanding of consent and safe behavior. We also need to distigmatize victimhood so people are no longer afraid to come forward.

    • Helen Birch says:

      Critical thinker: there’s not much critical thinking evident when you entirely missed the bits about the men in the class being taught *to intervene* if they saw someone else committing a crime, and to think of preventing rape as heroic. That’s not shaming or demonizing anyone in the class. Rather the opposite.

      It’s not telling the people in the class “We think you’d rape someone”, it’s telling them, “This is what rape really looks like, and it doesn’t look like the Hollywood idea of the scary stranger. And here’s how to help stop it.”

      And if it also teaches them to be cautious about mixing sex and alcohol with someone they don’t know, how is that a bad thing?

  13. Laurie says:

    Awesome article!

  14. [...] this year, rape survivor Zerlina Maxwell was practically pilloried for saying on Fox News, “I think that the entire conversation is wrong. I don’t want anybody to be telling [...]

  15. [...] boys about rape prevention. And they’ve been shown to work. Take, for example, the “Don’t Be That Guy” campaign in Vancouver that led to a 10% decrease in the rape rate. Or the course designed [...]

  16. [...] intimacy from becoming abusive and girls who don’t follow all the rules are fair game. There are programs out there aimed at helping boys understand issues of rape, consent, and empathy, and they seem to [...]

  17. [...] much of the research we present in these Research Blogs is pretty straightforward. Like that teaching men rape prevention actually works, for example. And this study does showcase how unfair it is that girls feel they have to try to [...]

  18. [...] from becoming abusive and girls who don’t follow all the rules are fair game. There are programs out there aimed at helping boys understand issues of rape, consent, and empathy, and they seem to [...]

  19. [...] Tatum found that men can take a rape prevention class in college that affects them for years. The course teaches empathy and then how to intervene in dangerous situations, support a rape survivor, and [...]

  20. [...] much of the research we present in these Research Blogs is pretty straightforward. Like that teaching men rape prevention actually works, for example. And this study does showcase how unfair it is that girls feel they have to try to [...]

  21. [...] Tatum found that men can take a rape prevention class in college that affects them for years. The course teaches empathy and then how to intervene in dangerous situations, support a rape survivor, and [...]

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