Flipping the Script on Campus Sexual Assault

A Canadian program designed to empower young women “to trust their judgement and overcome social pressures to be ‘nice’ when their sexual integrity is threatened” provides a new model for fighting campus sexual assault.

Dr. Charlene Senn, a longtime feminist and currently a professor at the University of Windsor, developed Enhanced Assess, Acknowledge, Act, also known as Flip the Script, in 2003, when she realized that much of the research around stopping perpetration in men was either entirely ineffective, or occasionally successful in the short-term, but typically not creating long-term changes in attitude and knowledge. “It became clear to me that we needed to give women tools,” Senn told Ms. “There must be knowledge and tools that would help them deal with this reality now, while other people are working on stopping perpetration and broader culture change.”

Too often, the fight against rape and sexual assault on college campuses seems like a long, grueling battle—especially when universities themselves are often disengaged from the fight, or are complicit in silencing survivors and improperly handling cases of sexual misconduct. Additionally, the work students and advocates are able to do on campuses, such as bystander prevention education, often do not have immediate and tangible results. 

Based on the “Assess, Acknowledge, Act” idea developed by sexual violence researchers Patricia Rozee and Mary Koss, Senn’s enhanced program is a sexual assault resistance program designed for first-year women on college campuses and built within “a positive sexuality framework where women’s desires are at the center.” The 12-hour course touches briefly on best feminist practices for self-defense, but focuses more energy on desire, how to negotiate the things that women want or need in a sexual scenario and reducing the belief in rape myths among young women, and particularly the myth that sexual assault is often perpetrated by a stranger rather than an acquaintance.

Some may see Senn’s program as one that shifts the onus of sexual assault onto to women—but her program is backed by statistics and is the only one yet to be proven to reduce the incidence of rape and sexual violence for its participants. In a randomized controlled trial, EAAA’s participants experienced a 46 percent reduction in completed rape and a 63 percent reduction in attempted rape in the following year. 

The efficacy of EAAA encourages a critical question: If we have these tools, which are proven to be effective for at least two years, why would we deny young women the right to use them?

So far, Florida Atlantic University and the University of Iowa are the only schools in the U.S. to implement Flip the Script, though others universities have been trained and are in the process of implementing the program. Sara Feldmann, from Iowa’s Office of the Sexual Misconduct Response Coordinator told Ms. that the program has, so far, had great results at her university, where the course is being offered for school credit. The University is now looking to create an evidence-informed adaptation of Flip the Script for other populations at a high risk for being exposed to sexual violence, such as gay men, trans folks and gender nonconforming students.

“They’re [course participants] less likely to blame themselves, and that, to me, is really powerful,” Feldmann said. “We want to be really careful not to suggest that this curriculum is a means to solving this problem. It’s what we need to do, or what we’ve decided we want to do while we work toward the problem of solving sexual violence.”

This is a sentiment echoed by Senn herself, who believes her program to be a part of a more comprehensive approach to ending sexual violence on college campuses. “I am also a feminist who has real concerns about the kinds of messaging that has happened in the past and in the present that is telling women what they should do, and how they should be behave,” Senn said, “and is acting as if they are responsible for sexual violence.” That’s why reinforcing that messaging isn’t EAAA’s goal—rather, it frames agency and freedom from violence as a right that women can claim, rather than a responsibility they must pursue.

As the landscape around ending campus sexual assault continues to shift nationwide—and the climate in addressing the issue becomes more hostile under the guidance of Trump administration Education Secretary Betsy DeVos—it is ever more important that universities begin protecting survivors and with whatever tools are available. For the moment, EEEA may be the most powerful one in their reach.


Brock Colyar is a former editorial intern at Ms. They were a journalism and gender and sexuality studies major at Northwestern University, where they founded a campus queer and radical feminist magazine and served as a sexual health and assault peer educator. Much of their spare time is spent overthinking intra-feminist politics and Stevie Nicks. You can follow them on Twitter @UnhappyFem (Photo via Colin Boyle/The Daily Northwestern.)