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UA Health Sciences Leads $3M NIH Study to Evaluate Sexual Assault Prevention Program in Arizona Bars

Photo: Pexels

Photo: Pexels

College campuses across the United States conduct sexual assault orientation sessions and prevention workshops for students, yet little research exists as to whether these interventions result in fewer sexual assaults.

In response, researchers from the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and Arizona State University have been awarded a $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to evaluate the effectiveness of a sexual assault prevention training program for employees who work in alcohol-serving establishments near Arizona’s three public universities. 

The Arizona Department of Health Services developed and began implementing the "Safer Bars" program, a bystander-prevention curriculum, in 2012. Funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the program is designed to teach bartenders and staff to recognize situations that may contribute to sexual violence and ways to safely intervene.

To date, no other research programs have evaluated the effectiveness of the bystander intervention training program as a means to reduce alcohol-related sexual violence.

Mary Koss, PhD

Mary Koss, PhD

"A high proportion of rapes of college students occur in environments where liquor is being consumed.  People know they should intervene, but don’t know what the warning signs are and how to step in," said Mary Koss, PhD, a UA Regents Professor of Public Health and a nationally recognized expert on sexual assault. "Our project is designed to equip and empower liquor servers to spot and respond to situations that could escalate into unwanted sexual acts."

The researchers will study liquor-serving establishments in university communities in Tucson, Flagstaff and Tempe located within a 1-mile radius of campus.

"We are measuring success in multiple ways, one of which is to look at the number of police-assistance calls to bars near the universities where we ultimately will have trained a significant number of employees at establishments that have the 'Safer Bars' designation," added Dr. Koss, principal investigator of the study.

"We have brought together sexual assault and alcohol experts for the project. We are following the CDC's recommendations that more attention be placed on changing environments and less focus on individuals, because that approach has not been a resounding success over more than 30 years of rape-prevention effort," she said.  We are very encouraged that the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recognized the importance of gathering evidence on efforts to make bars safer.”

Elise Lopez, DrPh

Elise Lopez, DrPh

Working with Dr. Koss is Co-Principal Investigator Kelly Cue Davis, PhD, associate professor at the ASU Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, and Co-Investigator Elise Lopez, DrPh, assistant professor of practice at the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and director of the UA Consortium on Gender-Based Violence.

"Our team has worked with ADHS for five years to refine the program and expand its implementation in Arizona," Dr. Lopez said. "Several other states have expressed interest in replicating Safer Bars. Our ultimate goal with this grant is to develop a model program that has been demonstrated as effective and is available to replicate nationally."

"The University of Arizona must do everything we can to ensure the safety of our students,” said UA President Robert C. Robbins, MD. “I am impressed by the ongoing collaborative research by faculty members at the UA Zuckerman College of Public Health focused on the prevention of physical and sexual violence through education and training, and I am glad this grant enables the implementation of that research directly into our local communities. I look forward to learning more about the effectiveness of the Safer Bars program in Arizona."

The National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, grant No. R01AA027263

The University of Arizona