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  • Utilizing Peer Education Theater for the Primary Prevention of Sexual Violence on College Campuses
  • Sarah McMahon (bio), Judy L. Postmus (bio), Corinne Warrener (bio), and Ruth Anne Koenick (bio)

To address the widespread problem of sexual assault, many colleges and universities are providing primary prevention education programs. Although a number of such programs exist and appear in the literature (for review see Vladutiu, Martin, & Macy, 2011), the role of peer education theater offers a unique approach. Peer education has been demonstrated as effective for delivering health messages, is cost-effective, is well-received by students, and engages students in a potentially powerful way (White, Park, Israel, & Cordero, 2009). The purpose of this paper is to present a theoretically based approach to a campus sexual violence prevention program using peer education theater. We provide the results of an exploratory study that evaluates the impact of the program on students’ rape myths and bystander attitudes and that determines whether the program produces positive outcomes by key variables such as gender, ethnicity, athlete status, and fraternity/sorority status. We conclude with implications for student affairs professionals and educators. [End Page 78]

Sexual Assault Prevention on College Campuses

The primary focus of rape prevention programs on college campuses often is to change individuals’ beliefs in rape myths, defined as false beliefs about rape shaped by sexism and other prejudices individuals hold (Burt, 1980). Addressing rape myths is important not only because they represent problematic attitudes, but also because they are cited as an explanatory predictor in the actual perpetration of sexual violence, or proclivity to rape (Hinck & Thomas, 1999).

In addition to reducing rape myths, an increasingly popular strategy for the primary prevention of sexual assault is bystander intervention. This approach frames sexual violence as a community issue and suggests that all individuals have a responsibility to intervene in situations that may lead to sexual violence and respond during or after the assault occurs (Banyard, Plante, & Moynihan, 2004; McMahon, Postmus & Koenick, 2011). The bystander approach has been identified as holding particular promise for addressing sexual assault in college settings, where bystanders are often present during the “pre-assault phase” where risk markers appear, and if equipped with the correct skills, can interrupt these situations and prevent sexual assaults from occurring (Burn, 2009). Evaluation of a number of bystander programs have appeared in the literature and demonstrate promise for creating positive change in attitudes and behaviors (e.g., Banyard, Moynihan & Plante, 2007; Foubert & Perry, 2007). Hence, bystander intervention may be a potentially powerful prevention tool to ultimately reduce the occurrence of sexual assault (Banyard et al., 2004).

As student affairs professionals consider implementing rape prevention programs, questions remain about how to best deliver such programs in a realistic, practical format for large, universal groups of college students. Although one-dose interventions have been criticized as having a limited ability to produce sustained change (i.e., Lonsway, 1996), reviews of the number of sessions necessary to produce change are mixed, with some studies even indicating short sessions can be as effective (see review by Vladutiu et al., 2011). Clearly, there is a need for further research to investigate this issue. From a practicality standpoint, the reality is that, many times, those who work with college students are afforded only one opportunity to provide universal prevention programming to students at large-setting venues such as new student orientation. Given these constraints, finding single-use methods that are most effective in producing change in large-scale settings is important. Black, Weisz, Coats, and Patterson (2000) suggested that one-dose sexual violence interventions may be more effective if they are carefully selected, delivered by peers, and able to evoke emotion, such as the use of peer education theater.

Peer Education Theater

Peer education has gained popularity in higher education over the past few decades to educate students about a variety of health behaviors. There is both empirical and theoretical support for using peer education as a method for delivering sexual violence prevention messages. Theoretical support is found within diffusion of innovation theories (DOI; see Turner & Shepherd’s 1999 review). DOI recently has been put forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as one of the key social...


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