Innovative Peer-to-Peer Delivery of Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Program Could be Model for Colleges Nationwide

By Tom McLaughlin

An innovative, peer-to-peer delivery of TakeCare – a widely used sexual assault prevention and awareness program – developed at Rutgers University–Camden could serve as a model for psychology courses nationwide.

Students in Cavanaugh’s fall 2017 Violence Against Women and Women’s Health course, who led TakeCare sessions for their peers.

Courtenay Cavanaugh, an associate professor of psychology at Rutgers–Camden, outlines the implementation and results of her novel approach, which enabled an initial 16 students trained in the TakeCare program to deliver the course to an additional 156 students, in the journal Teaching of Psychology.

Cavanaugh explains that, during the fall 2017 semester, she delivered the evidence-based bystander-intervention program to the 16 students in her engaged civic learning course. Students are taught to be aware of and assist in dangerous situations in whatever capacity they can while also not endangering themselves, even if that means distracting the situation or getting someone else to assist.

The Rutgers–Camden scholar then trained her students to facilitate these intervention strategies with their peers outside the class.

“We want our students to be aware of this issue and, most importantly, we want to prevent them from becoming a statistic because they’ve experienced this type of adversity,” says the Philadelphia resident, who notes that – according to a 2016 U.S. Bureau of Statistics report – one in five female undergraduates are sexually assaulted on college campuses.

Courtenay Cavanaugh

With support from the Division of Student Affairs at Rutgers–Camden, the students trained in the delivery of the TakeCare program recruited their peers to attend sessions – creating and distributing flyers, and working with student leaders across campus to reach out to their respective members. Student Affairs also helped to schedule sessions, provided informational materials on available campus resources, and offered support services in the event that participants expressed adverse reactions to the presentations.

Cavanaugh’s students then held a total of six peer-facilitated group sessions to deliver the TakeCare program to a total of 156 students during free periods in the Campus Center. The sessions included discussions on barriers to bystander behavior and ways to overcome these barriers, specific behaviors that attendees could do in certain scenarios, and related services available on campus.

“This was an innovative, cross-campus collaboration. The novel model for integrating this bystander program into my course advanced both student learning and sexual assault prevention on campus,” says Cavanaugh.

Over the course of the project, she notes, the students had been asked periodically to reflect on how their actions and outlook have been impacted by the program, and later to describe their experience facilitating the program for the peers. Across the board, she says, the students who had received this training were “transformed” with a new sense of awareness.

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