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Self-defense training reduces rapes in Kenya

Rape of high-school-aged girls is shockingly common in Kenya, where a new Stanford study found that one in four girls had been raped in the previous year, usually by someone they knew, such as a boyfriend, relative or neighbor. But a six-week class of verbal and physical self-defense skills sharply reduced the rate at which girls were raped, the study also found.

The self-defense program was developed by No Means No Worldwide, a non-governmental organization that has developed sexual-assault prevention curricula for several groups in Kenya, including young girls, elderly women and boys. The NGO teamed up with adolescent medicine researchers at Stanford and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital to test the program for high-school girls.

The research team found that in the 10-month period after receiving training, nine percent of girls were raped, down from nearly 25 percent in the year prior to training. Even more encouraging, during the follow-up period, more than half of the girls had used their self-defense skills to fend off a would-be attacker. And, instead of complying with the ingrained culture of silence about rape, those who experienced rape were much more likely to seek help following an attack than they were before receiving training.

From our press release on the study:

“We were pretty stunned that the self-defense training was so effective,” [study author and No Means No Worldwide co-founder Jake] Sinclair, [MD,] said. “From the testimonials we collected, we saw that even a small girl could disable an attacker and get away, again and again.”


“Often, people focus on women as victims,” said Cynthia Kapphahn, MD, a clinical associate professor of pediatrics at Stanford and an adolescent medicine specialist at Packard Children’s who was also an author of the study. “This work shows that it’s also important to focus on them as empowered beings; that approach can have an important role in a woman’s ability to protect herself.”

The data from this study are impressive - in addition to reducing assaults, the program was also very cost-effective, at $1.75 per girl, compared to $86 for after-care following rape. But the numbers tell only part of the story. The other aspect, the emotional power of the girls' new empowerment, is eloquently conveyed in the short video above, in which Kenyan girls talk about how they used their new self-defense skills to stop attacks.

Previously: More reaction to the Supreme Court's health-care decision: Are women the big winners? and Stanford ob-gyn Paul Blumenthal discusses advancing women's health in developing countries
Video courtesy of No Means No Worldwide

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