NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Training female college students to recognize and fend off unwanted sexual advances can halve the risk of rape, experts said following a trial program in Canada.
The risk of rape for first-year students who took the 12-hour training course was about 5 percent versus nearly 10 percent for a control group who were given brochures and brief information sessions instead.
The risk of attempted rape was even lower, 3.4 percent, compared to 9.3 percent for students who didn't receive training, according to the study published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine.
"What this means in practical terms is that enrolling 22 women in the ... resistance program would prevent one additional rape from occurring," said Charlene Senn, author of the study and a professor at Windsor University in Canada.
She added that nine out of 10 sexual attacks on campuses were by someone known to the victim.
Almost 900 students took part in the two-year trial at three Canadian universities.
Students in the non-control group were given four sessions on assessing the risk of assault and learning self-defense techniques -- both verbal and physical.
A study last month found sexual violence on U.S. campuses had hit "epidemic levels" with more than 18 percent of female students at one university reporting rapes or attempted rapes in their first year.
After a slew of highly publicized cases, the White House issued guidelines last year for universities to do more to combat sexual assaults on campus.
Earlier this week, pop star Lady Gaga joined forces with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to push for legislation to crack down on the rising wave of sexual violence plaguing U.S. universities.
Experts said the Canadian study gave insight into an issue that has proven hard not only to address, but also to assess.
However, some pointed to the need to focus on potential perpetrators, rather that on victims, for long-term solutions.
"It's always encouraging to hear of new ways to prevent rape," Alexandra Brodsky, co-director of Know Your IX, a campaign to end campus sexual violence, told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"But I hope we take this as an opportunity to develop additional methods that take the burden to stop violence off potential victims."
Reporting by Maria Caspani, Editing by Emma Batha; Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org