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Model Peer-Led Sexual Assault Prevention Programs: Lessons for Engaging and Empowering Youth

NCJ Number
Michelle Harris; Mark Bergeron-Naper
Date Published
September 1999
15 pages
This report presents findings from an evaluation of demonstration projects in Massachusetts designed to provide sexual assault prevention services.
In 1995, the Massachusetts Department of Pubic Health (MDPH) was notified it would receive funding through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) for sexual assault prevention initiatives. After public meetings were convened to determine the need for community-based sexual assault prevention programming, five Sexual Assault Demonstration Projects were funded in 1997. Two main goals were identified for these projects: (1) to provide community organization, prevention education, and skill-building to target populations, and (2) to change norms, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding sexual assault. All of the demonstration projects employed the model of “peers teaching peers” and incorporated community cultural beliefs and values. Main components of each project included youth mentoring, leadership development, and peer education. In 1998, the MDPH began an evaluation to assess the effectiveness of these projects. Focus groups were convened in order to elicit participants’ perceptions of the impact and meaning of the programs. Four main characteristics of the projects emerged as the most positive impacts made by the sexual assault prevention programs. First, the projects conveyed a sense of belonging and connection to peers and the community; second, the projects incorporated sexual assault prevention into every facet of the curriculum; third, opportunities were presented for participatory education and skill development; and fourth, the values of commitment and leadership were modeled throughout the projects. The projects were thus effective in engaging participants to incorporate program concepts into their lives. Recommendations and observations of the participants are reported and include recommendations to expand the size and resources of the programs and to elicit more community support for the programs. Appendix