Friday, August 30, 2019

ReThink-DC: Preparing boys to end rape

By Tahir Duckett (President, ReThink at & Julie Patrick (National Partners Liaison, Raliance at

 This is a blog posting on behalf of the ATSA Prevention committee – Kieran.

 Researchers have identified a variety of risk factors associated with the likelihood of committing an act of sexual violence, including hostile views of women, rape-supportive beliefs, and perception of peers’ attitudes towards women and sex. (Lonsway & Fitzgerald, 1995; Abbey & McAuslan, 2004; Abbey, McAuslan, Zawacki, Clinton, & Buck, 2001; Knight & Sims-Knight, 2004; Swartout 2013).

These cultural norms that make sexual violence so common remain deeply embedded in society, especially among men and boys (Prevention Institute, October 2014). Adolescent boys are bombarded with toxic messages that normalize misogyny, sexual entitlement, and violence, and these myths are redoubled and reinforced by their peer groups who are receiving similar messages from similar sources (Schwartz & DeKeseredy, 1997).
If the problem is cultural, then the solution must be as well.

ReThink is a Washington, DC-based nonprofit that works with adolescent boys aged 12-18 to break down the cultural norms that underpin sexual violence. ReThink sought funding from RALIANCE, a national partnership among leaders in the prevention of sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse. Raliance is dedicated to ending sexual violence in one generation and supports an impact grant program with a specific funding category to prevent primary perpetration.

ReThink-DC is a pilot project designed to help instill adolescent boys from a variety of backgrounds with critical values of empathy, consent and emotional awareness, preparing them to reject rape myths and embrace healthy attitudes towards women. Through ongoing, consistent contact with the trained community leaders, the program seeks to help boys learn to reject rape culture, both publicly and privately, now and in the future.
Flipping the status quo

The program hypothesized that boys who receive consistent messages normalizing consent, empathy, and emotional awareness, and receive these messages from multiple credible messengers over time will help saturate a community with a new set of norms. Boys are less likely to receive tacit approval when they echo broader social messages of misogyny, sexual entitlement, and violence, because these messages no longer go unchallenged as normal behavior. Research shows that messages are most effective at reducing the acceptance of rape myths when they are received often, and at younger ages (ICASA & Schewe).
Preparing for scale

ReThink partnered with the District of Columbia Rape Crisis Center (DCRCC) on the eleven final modules of the curriculum, ranging from 20 to 45 minutes each, designed to provide educators with the tools to teach young people about core concepts of consent, break down gender norms and stereotypes, and improve empathy and emotional awareness. The modules include general best practices, facilitation notes, real-world examples, and media resources to keep learners engaged.
In order to measure progress and prepare for scale, ReThink tracked the following indicators:
        Average change in boys’ understanding and views of consent, empathy, healthy masculinity and rejection of rape myths over the course of the year (through pre-/post-tests)

       Community leaders’ commitment to continue implementing ReThink methodology, trainings and intervention strategies at the end of one year.

        Number of community leaders committed to preventing sexual violence

        Number of trainings and interventions held by community leaders

        Number of adolescent boys who are reached through these trainings

Here’s what we learned – People are hungry for language and skills to help adolescents develop these skills.
ReThink trained more than twice our original goal of 50 leaders. Community leaders participating in the training were extremely hungry for practical, hands-on instruction and role-playing opportunities. Yet, prior to our training, many did not feel they had the language, skills, or comfort to talk to students about these issues. Further, a second step was to divide the subject matter into different sessions and allow participants to opt-in based on their personal strengths and gaps. For example, some participants came into the training with a strong understanding of theory and were seeking primarily practical instruction, while others needed the theoretical training regarding how cultural norms contribute to sexual violence.
Here’s what we learned – Shorter, subject-specific workshops are more effective than longer, comprehensive ones.

ReThink’s training of community leaders involved approximately 4-5 hours of subject matter, depending on the size of the group. Community leaders who experienced the training as a series of three shorter workshops focusing on narrower topics reported stronger familiarity and greater confidence with the material than those who experienced the training as one longer workshop covering the entirety of the available material.

Here’s what we learned – An investment of just a few hours meant significant changes in the attitudes of adolescent boys. 
ReThink’s evaluation through Pre- and post-surveys of adolescent boys who received the modules indicated a reduction in acceptance of rape-supportive beliefs and hostility towards women of at least 52%.




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