Educational program successful at reducing forced sex in South African adolescents

Southern Africa has some of the highest rates of sexual assault in the world, with 20 percent of adolescent girls and boys reporting that they have been forced to have sex. In many cases, they are also the perpetrators: In one survey, 12 percent of boys and 5 percent of girls admitted they have forced someone else into sex.

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John B. Jemmott III, the Kenneth B. Clark Professor of Communication and Psychiatry at the Annenberg School for Communication

Given that forced sex experiences are linked to increased rates for HIV, depression, suicide, substance use, and early pregnancy—and it is a problem that spans the globe—it is an area ripe for public health interventions.

A new study, led by John B. Jemmott III and published in JAMA Network Open, found that a 12-hour educational program presented in sixth grade classrooms in South Africa significantly reduced the chances that the students would force sex on someone else—an effect that held true over the four years the students were followed.

While previous research found that the program was successful at its primary mission of reducing HIV and risky sexual behavior, this secondary analysis found that it also reduced perpetration of sexual assault among students who received the intervention.

“This study is an important contribution in assisting South African adolescents to decrease forced sexual behavior,” says Jemmett, the Kenneth B. Clark Professor of Communication and Psychiatry at the Annenberg School for Communication and the Perelman School of Medicine.

The intervention, designed by Jemmott and his colleagues and funded by the National Institutes of Health, was given to more than 1,000 students in grade six at schools in Eastern Cape Province, South Africa. The great majority of the students had not yet begun sexual involvement. Called “Let Us Protect Our Future,” it contained 12 one-hour theory-based modules primarily designed to reduce HIV and risky sexual behavior, but also addressed adjacent topics like understanding healthy relationships and correcting misconceptions about rape.

Read more at the Annenberg School for Communication.