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Current Research Program

Sexual Assault Resistance Education for University WomenSARE Program Facilitators with Charlene Senn

Current phase of the research:

A randomized controlled trial evaluation of the Enhanced AAA Sexual Assault Resistance program on three Canadian university campuses. Funded by 2011-2016 Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Operating grant. Co-investigators on the project are Paula Barata and Ian Newby-Clark at the University of Guelph, and Wilfreda Thurston and Misha Eliasziw at the University of Calgary.  Recruitment of over 900 women has been completed and 12, 18, and 24 month follow-ups are in progress.  See published open access protocol for more detail [BMC Women's Health.2013, 13:25.  DOI: 10.1186/1472-6874-13-25].

This research is the culmination of research begun in 2004. The Basic Assess, Acknowledge, Act (AAA) program was developed based on Patricia Rozee and Mary Koss' (2001) review article which suggested a new direction for rape resistance education for women. The program was carefully developed to reduce woman-blaming/self-blaming attitudes and beliefs and is successful in achieving that goal (see Senn, Gee, & Saunders, 2008). The program was piloted, evaluated, and revised in 2005-2006 (CIHR Operating Grant). An enhanced version of the AAA program adding an emancipatory sexuality education unit (adapted from the Our Whole Lives Sexuality Education program) was then experimentally evaluated against the basic version of the AAA program and a no-program control (Ontario Women's Health Council Career Award). The basic program is effective in increasing women's perception of their personal risk, decreasing woman-blaming beliefs, increasing confidence that they could defend themselves against acquaintance and stranger sexual assault, and increasing their knowledge and application of effective self-defense strategies. Consistently across studies, the completed sexual assault rate for women who took the program was reduced by more than 50% of that experienced by women who did not, although there was insufficient power for traditional significance testing. The enhanced program also decreased time to detect danger in hypothetical scenarios. Most of these effects were maintained to three and/or six months (see Senn, Gee, & Thake, 2011 for more details).  The Basic AAA program also has demonstrated promise with girls 16 years or older in high school (see Senn, 2012).
SARE Research Team

A reflection piece on the complex process of developing and evaluating the program while trying to maintain my feminist goals was published in Feminism & Psychology (Senn, 2011).




Bystander Initiative:  Sexual Assault Prevention

In collaboration with Dr. Anne Forrest, Director of Women's Studies a number of studies are in progress evaluating the effectiveness of our campus Bystander Initiative. See and the Psynopsis article we wrote (Senn & Forrest, 2013) for more detail about the Bystander Initiative.

Other Research - Collaborations

  • Held a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Grant (2004-2007) with principal investigator Dr. Ruth Mann (Sociology/Anthropology) to investigate community responses to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
  • Worked with Dr. Melanie Beres (post-doc, University of Auckland, NZ) and Dr. Jodee McCaw (private practice Toronto) to replicate and extend McCaw & Senn's (1998) study on the validity of the Miscommunication Hypothesis for explaining sexual coercion. Data was collected in New Zealand and Canada (see Beres, Senn, & McCaw, 2013).  An analysis of the data focusing on the responses in reaction to a male refusal of sexual behaviour initiated by a woman is now submitted for publication (Beres, Terry, & Senn).

Predictors of Heterosexual Men's Sexual Coercion

  • a number of studies of variations in random sample response rates based on differing incentives and questionnaire features.
  • Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grant 1994-1997 (plus one year extension) "A developmental study of coercive dating behaviour and sexual experiences: media, education, peer interaction, and demographic variables."

Other Research Interests

Women and Pornography

  • Conducted an extension of earlier experimental research on the effects of direct exposure to pornography on women (see below), an investigation of the mediating effects of a companion with an assessment of historical changes between 1984 and 1998.
  • A Q-methodological investigation of women's experiences with pornography.
  • An experimental investigation of the effects of exposure to sexually explicit materials on women.

Inadvertent negative effects of some IRB requirements

  • Completed two studies examining the possible role of 'warnings' included in consent forms for studies on sensitive topics on the women who participate in those studies. Results suggest that there is not much effect of wording in straightforward questionnaire studies but that in experimental studies of the effects of sexually explicit materials, strong warnings have an impact on participant perceptions of the materials. One conference presentation and one presentation to the University of Windsor's Research Ethics Board.

Involvement in student research

I work with graduate and undergraduate students to publish their research findings whenever possible.

  • a number of my former and current students have carried out research on gay, lesbian, and bisexual issues.
  • issues in women's health and sex education have also been topics of interest to some of the graduate students working with me