What’s Wrong with the CDC’s Public Health Model for Rape Prevention

By Jill Cermele & Martha McCaughey 

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The 2014 White House Task Force on Sexual Assault on College Campuses has mandated that in order to continue to receive federal funding, colleges and universities must step up their game, including providing rape prevention education.  The 2014 “Not Alone” report outlines the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) public health model of sexual assault prevention, and reiterates the need for evidenced-based programming to combat rape and sexual assault.  The CDC’s public health model defines the terms and levels of prevention, and articulates what “counts” as primary prevention – namely, bystander intervention training and psychoeducation to shift rape-supportive attitudes.  As we describe in detail elsewhere (see McCaughey & Cermele, 2015), despite the overwhelming evidence that self-defense (training and enacting it) works both to stop rape and to shift rape-supportive attitudes, the CDC does not discuss or recommend self-defense training in its public health model. On the surface, the omission of self-defense training from the category of primary prevention is perplexing, considering the CDC’s own definition.  Primary prevention is defined as thwarting violence before it happens, while secondary prevention includes strategies and responses that immediately follow victimization, such as counseling or medical care, to address the short-term effects.  The CDC has consistently and openly argued that while teaching (often male) bystanders to intervene in and thwart sexual assault is an established primary prevention tactic, teaching women to intervene in and thwart sexual assault targeted against themselves is not. Continue reading “What’s Wrong with the CDC’s Public Health Model for Rape Prevention”