A program developed by the University of Kentucky to reduce sexual violence in high schools appears to be helping students across the state.
In a study of 26 high schools over the past five years, UK researchers found that 13 high schools with the Green Dot program had reduced the frequency of violence, harassment, stalking and dating violence by 50 percent. At 13 high schools without the program, the rate increased slightly.
The findings were announced Wednesday in Frankfort by UK President Eli Capilouto, Kentucky first lady Jane Beshear and lead researcher Ann Coker of UK's Center for Research on Violence Against Women.
Eileen Recktenwald, director of the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs, said the study's results were a watershed moment for Kentucky.
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"In the 40 years since the anti-rape movement began in Kentucky, the rates of sexual violence have steadily risen; they have never reduced," she said. "The idea that, due to the effectiveness of Green Dot, we can change that, that there will be many fewer young people suffering the pain and devastation of sexual violence, this is priceless."
Sexual violence remains a big problem in Kentucky's high schools: One in seven high school students experiences physical dating violence, and one in 11 has had unwanted sex because he or she was physically forced to or was too drunk to give consent.
Green Dot turns the familiar paradigm of sexual assault prevention — victims and assailants — on its head. Developed by former UK researcher Dorothy Edwards, it moves from merely telling girls to be careful and telling boys, "No means no," to a community approach that puts more burden on other people to get involved in a safe and responsible way.
"Instead of talking about 'you might be a rapist and you might be a victim,' it really shifts the conversation to what kind of community we want to live in, and how do we take responsibility," said Rhonda Henry, director of the Violence Intervention and Prevention Center at UK, and former director of the Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center.
The training teaches people about the 3Ds: distract, direct and delegate, with safety as the first consideration. For example, Henry said, if you see a couple fighting at the lockers during a break and the girl looks scared or uncomfortable, a student might try to distract the confrontation, might directly ask the girl if she needs help, or might delegate by going to her friends or a teacher to report that someone is in trouble.
The same scenario could work anywhere, such as at a college party.
"We train people how to assess the situation safely, and how to bring in help," Henry said. "It's not being nosy; it's taking responsibility for our community."
The research project got started back in 2010, when 15 rape crisis centers around the state and the UK center teamed up to find a primary prevention program. The effort was financed with a grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Students and adults were trained using the Green Dot program. Over the five-year span, Coker and her team conducted more than 80,000 surveys at both sets of schools to see how the program was working.
Coker contends that the issue should be a public health priority.
"We know that violence significantly affects high school students' lives by causing physical injuries, missed school days and increased need for both medical and mental health services," she said. "Finding strong evidence for this program's ability to reduce violence is very important and could result in dramatic reductions in health care costs."