How Schools Can Reduce Sexual Violence Teaching teens what their peers are really up to is a new evidence-based way to promote less risky behavior around sex and alcohol.

How Schools Can Reduce Sexual Violence

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With the rise of the #MeToo movement, six states have introduced or passed bills to cover consent in sex ed classes in public schools. But just how do you teach kids about sexual assault? NPR's Anya Kamenetz reports on a program in Providence, R.I., that offers an answer.

ANYA KAMENETZ, BYLINE: It's a rainy Monday morning and students are gathering at The Met, a high school in downtown Providence.

JOHNSON THOMAS: Welcome back. I know we haven't seen you all in a couple weeks, right?

KAMENETZ: Workshop leader Johnson Thomas addresses a group of sleepy 10th-graders at round tables in the lunch area.

THOMAS: Today is session four. If you feel uncomfortable, you're more than welcome to leave, step out, go grab a water, go take a walk.

KAMENETZ: This is the last session of a four-part sexual violence prevention workshop. It's offered by Day One, a non-profit. The workshop is based on a principle called social norms. It's like positive peer pressure. For teens, says Day One's Sandra Malone...

SANDRA MALONE: I can still remember. I mean, those are powerful years where you don't want to make yourself vulnerable and stand out, which is huge.

KAMENETZ: People want to blend in. But surveys show that whether it's drugs, alcohol or sex, they tend to assume that, well, everybody else is doing it more than they really are. And over the last two decades, research has shown that giving college students the real information about their peers' moderate drinking reduces risky drinking. Sandra Malone wondered if this positive social norms approach would work to prevent sexual violence, too. So she designed this program for high school students. The four one-hour sessions discuss scenarios like street harassment, groping, sexual assault by an acquaintance and cyberbullying. Kevin, who's 15 and has dark, curly hair, says he was cyberbullied in eighth grade.

KEVIN: And that was a horrible experience.

KAMENETZ: Kevin - we're only using first names to protect his privacy - says he's been catcalled, too.

KEVIN: Good thing I was with a friend - like, I was shook.

KAMENETZ: The Day One workshop teaches that most teens don't condone this kind of behavior. And it helps students think through how to speak up if something happens to them or to a friend. Anyla, one of the most outspoken students in the class, says...

ANYLA: Because, basically, like, what I learned today - like, you not saying anything is making it look like it's OK. And it will continue because it is continuing.

KAMENETZ: In every group of students, you're not just speaking to potential bystanders or potential victims. Malone, the program's creator, says the social norms approach works for potential perpetrators, too. Kids rethink their choices when they see that their friends won't approve.

MALONE: You can see little light bulbs go off like, I didn't realize that was going to be so offensive, or I didn't think that that person went home and was really upset by it.

KAMENETZ: Researchers at Brown University are currently evaluating this program's effectiveness. But 15-year-old Anyla has learned something. She said that since elementary school, she and her friends would grab each other's rear ends to be funny. But now...

ANYLA: After taking this class, like, no, absolutely not. Like, if you catch me doing that, honestly, tell me to stop, please.

KAMENETZ: Anya Kamenetz, NPR News, Providence, R.I.

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