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RCASA’s Sunday Book/Article Review: Creating Attitudinal Change Through Teaching

In Sexual Assault Awareness on January 10, 2010 at 9:00 am

Published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, October, 2009, this article takes a look at how college student’s attitudes toward rape and rape victims change after taking a one-semester course specifically addressing Women and Violence. Danielle M. Currier, Professor at the College of William and Mary and Jessica H. Carlson, Professor at Western New England College focused on two areas of research and literature: 1) the connection between attitudes about violence against women, attitudes about rape victims, and rape myth acceptance, or RMA, and 2) educational programs focusing on changing attitudes about violence against women, specifically rape.

The lead author, Jessica H. Carlson, taught an undergraduate women’s studies course titled “Women and Violence” . After teaching the course over several years she noted a change in students attitudes and perceptions towards violence against women, rape victims, and RMA. The authors hypothesised that students were more likely to have a change in attitude after completion of a course specifically addressing voilence against women than they were after completion of a course addressing many topics related to violence, sex and gender as a whole.

 The authors created several surveys, essentially a pre-test and post-test, as a method of obtaining the general knowledge of, and attitudes towards the issues at hand from a wide range of students, both lower and upper classmen. In order to test their hypothesis about changing attitudes they distributed the surveys in the course Violence against Women and also in two other courses, 1) Gender in Everyday Life and 2) Introduction to Sociology.

The study results will not come as a big surprise to those working in this field. Students completing the course specifically addressing violence against women had a  positive change in their attitudes about violence against women, rape victims, and RMA. Whereas the students in the other courses, that address these issues in one or two classes, did not have a significant change in attitude toward the issues at hand. The study also found there to be a difference in attitudes based on gender and age. Generally, hold on to your seat here, men tended to be more supportive of rape myths and rape supportive attitudes, than women. They also found that the older the students were the less likely they were to be supportive of rape myths and attitudes.

None of this comes as a shock to those working in education and prevention. This article further goes to shore up the idea that education and primary prevention is where we need to focus if we hope to see a change in attitudes about violence against women, specifically rape. Knowledge is the key to change.

The authors do not specifically address ethnicity, religious beliefs or background, sexual orientation or age (beyond specifying students being lower or upper classmen). It would be helpful and interesting to see the knowledge and attitudes about the topics taking into account more specific populations.

The more articles and research available on this topic the more likely we are to get the attention and funding we need to evoke change, a change in attitude.

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