Abstract: Ending Military Sexual Assault: Development and Pilot Testing of a Skills-Based Sexual Assault Prevention Training for Military Service Members (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

271P Ending Military Sexual Assault: Development and Pilot Testing of a Skills-Based Sexual Assault Prevention Training for Military Service Members

Friday, January 18, 2019
Continental Parlors 1-3, Ballroom Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Ashley Schuyler, MPH, Doctoral student, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
Sara Kintzle, PhD, Research Associate Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Carl Castro, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Background and Purpose: Sexual violence remains a significant problem in the US military. In 2016 it was estimated that nearly 15,000 service members experienced sexual assault, with fewer than a third reporting it. In addition, over half of victims indicate experiencing sexual harassment or stalking, which is known to increase odds of sexual assault victimization (Department of Defense, 2017). Current prevention strategies in the military include repeated didactic training and bystander intervention approaches, which are limited in their ability to affect behavior change. Innovative prevention approaches are necessary for changing the culture around sexual assault in the military, including a focus on related behaviors such as sexual harassment and stalking which act along a continuum of harm and create environments conducive to sexual assault. The current presentation describes the development and pilot testing of a comprehensive, skills-based sexual assault prevention training for military service members.

Methods: The training covered a variety of topics around sexual trauma including: definitions of key terms; discussions of sexual harassment and stalking behaviors; consent and communication; perpetrator characteristics and convictions of sexual assault; health consequences and treatment; myths around sexual assault; root causes of sexual assault; and military factors that facilitate sexual assault. It utilized a variety of techniques including psychoeducation, interactive discussion, question and answer, video, and a role-play scenario simulating appropriate and inappropriate responses to sexual assault disclosure. Training content and interactive materials were developed following extensive background research by the study team, assessing current practices and strategies for skill-building. Training sessions lasted approximately 90-120 minutes including a brief pre- and post-training survey with items assessing knowledge and attitudes related to sexual violence, as well as questions assessing various aspects of the training.

Results: A total of 197 participants across two large Army bases participated in the training, including those working in medical and infantry units (44% enlisted service members, 43% officers, 13% civilian employees). Over half of the sample was male (58%) and the majority had been in the military for at least a year (86%). From pre- to post-training, significant improvements were seen among all groups in knowledge related to definitions of sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, and consent, as well as reported comfort level in discussing sexual assault and responding appropriately to a disclosure. Participants provided positive feedback on the training, with the majority indicating that it was more useful than other sexual trauma trainings received in the military.

Conclusions and Implications: Participation in an innovative, skills-based sexual assault prevention training program facilitated enhanced knowledge related to sexual trauma, and improved comfort in discussing sexual assault and responding to a potential disclosure. It is critical for service members to have a comprehensive understanding of the unique dynamics of military sexual assault, and to develop skills for appropriately communicating about it with military peers and superiors. The current training may represent a template for future military sexual assault prevention strategies to incorporate skill-building components, move beyond limited didactic education, and incorporate interactive strategies, to facilitate greater learning and encourage behavior change.