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Student Corner: Developing Effective Methods of Preventing Sexual Assault in Rural Kenya

May 7 2018

Gender-based sexual violence is pandemic—preventing it seems almost impossible. But Clayman Institute Faculty Research Fellow Mike Baiocchi’s new research proves intervention and prevention are possible.

In his Faculty Research Fellows (FRF) presentation, “Establishing an Empirical Foundation for Preventing Gender-Based Violence,” Baiocchi delivered a comprehensive overview of the crucial, multi-year research that he and his team—Clea Sarnquist, a senior research scholar at the Stanford Global Child Health Program in the Department of Pediatrics, and his colleagues at the Stanford Gender-Based Violence Prevention Collaborative—have conducted in an effort to uncover the root causes of sexual violence in order to create interventions to end the pandemic. Earlier findings from this research were presented by Baiocchi and Sarnquist at the Clayman Institute’s 2017 winter symposium on “Breaking the Culture of Sexual Assault.” 

Baiocchi’s research is one of several projects funded by the What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls Programme, a flagship program from the UK Department for International Development that supports “primary prevention efforts across Africa, Asia and the Middle East, that seek to understand and address the underlying causes of violence,” and stop their recurrence. The site of the study is the unplanned settlements surrounding Nairobi, which are characterized by extreme poverty and a constantly changing infrastructure. Initial findings revealed an annual incident of sexual assault of 18-25% among girls ages 13 to 19. The research team carried out a series of gender-based violence educational trainings for youth in this area in conjunction with No Means No Worldwide (NMNW), Ujamaa Africa, the African Institute for Health & Development, the Ministry of Education in Kenya, and the local schools in these unplanned settlements.

The pilot study consisted of a convenience sample of 29 local schools, reaching about 6,000 Kenyan girls. The interventions were classroom-based, each led by a knowledgeable member of the Ujamaa Africa team. Because research shows that educational efficacy tends to decrease when students are not taught in a single-gender environment, the team ran distinct but parallel programs for girls and boys. The four main pathways that guided the girls’ program were empowerment, situational awareness, verbal skills, and physical self-defense skills. For boys, the three pathways were healthy gender norms, positive masculinity, and elementary instruction in bystander intervention. Both programs focused heavily on interpersonal interaction and moving the students through play-acting and real-world scenario work.

In the follow-up to the pilot study, the research team found that the annual rape incidence decreased from 7.3% to 3.6%. (To note: This decrease is concentrated among those who reported one or two incidents of rape, rather than four or more, suggesting improvement in one-time occurrences and less so in structural issues and vulnerability to repeated sexual violence.) In current iterations of the study, the interventions are still classroom-based and students are separated by gender; the trainings take place in middle schools, and involve a two-year follow-up period. 

In thinking about the future of gender-based violence prevention work, Baiocchi’s talk shed light on promising avenues for intervention programming with proven results. In fact, both Baiocchi and Sarnquist, in conjunction with the SARA Office, will bring the Enhanced Assess, Acknowledge, Act (EAAA) Sexual Assault Resistance Education Program to Stanford’s campus in the Spring of 2018. Originally developed for college students in Canada, EAAA uses similar theoretical pathways as the program in Kenya, and has had similar success in reducing the occurrence of sexual assault among the program’s participants. In running a pilot program at Stanford, Baiocchi and his colleagues hope to learn ways to scale this program, expanding efforts to break the culture of sexual assault on campus and elsewhere in the world.

Baiocchi and his team’s work demonstrate the critical role research plays in preventing gender-based violence at every stage, from education to intervention. By refusing to accept violence against women as normal or acceptable, gender research such as theirs digs deep to reveal the root causes of sexual violence, and to find the most effective, reproducible methods of preventing it.

A gender lens
exposes gaps in knowledge,
identifies root causes of barriers,
and proposes workable solutions.