TakeCARE and My Voice, My Choice.

The SMU Department of Psychology has made significant strides in preventing sexual victimization in college and high school populations through two technology-based projects: TakeCARE and My Voice, My Choice. 

Led by Renee McDonald, Professor of Psychology and Associate Dean for Research, and Ernest Jouriles, Professor of Psychology, TakeCARE (Confident, Aware, Responsible, Effective) is a video bystander intervention program designed to help students recognize risky situations and intervene effectively. 

McDonald elaborated on the importance of their research: “One of the things we’ve learned from students is that they sometimes don’t recognize when a situation is risky, or if they do, they’re not sure what they can do to help.”

TakeCARE’s approach to bystander intervention can most easily be described as “friends taking care of friends.” TakeCARE uses video vignettes of risky situations with narration that explains why these situations are risky, and the consequences of not stepping in to help. Finally, strategies to help are suggested, stressing that while it can be difficult to know what to do, there is something that can always be done. 

The importance of Jouriles and McDonald’s work has not gone unnoticed. “We were very fortunate to receive support from the National Institutes of Health to develop a video bystander intervention program for high school students, and SMU provided us with some additional support to adapt it for college students,” explained Dr. Jouriles.

The program has been tested in two area high schools, and it has been piloted with several hundred SMU students. TakeCARE is also being tested at Stony Brook University (NY), Montclair State University (NJ), and Marquette University (WI).

Lorelei Simpson Rowe, Associate Professor, is also working with Jouriles and McDonald to tackle the issue of sexual violence using technology. The My Voice, My Choice program helps female high school and college students learn to recognize and resist unwanted sexual advances. In this program, students learn to utilize assertive resistance skills when faced with such advances. To help them master the skills, they practice them in virtual-reality simulations of situations of escalating sexual coercion. After each scenario participants receive coaching from a facilitator and peers to help strengthen the students’ skills and confidence in using them.

Simpson Rowe found that teen girls are often concerned about offending others, so instead of taking a more assertive stance, they speak politely, apologize, or at times even thank someone pressuring them. My Voice, My Choice is meant to help the teens learn to feel more comfortable with using a strong, firm tone and clear body language to stop unwanted sexual advances.

In the initial pilot study in a local high school, only 10 percent of the teens who had participated in My Voice, My Choice experienced sexual coercion or assault in the three months after completing the program, versus 22 percent in the control group. After such strong initial results, the research team is evaluating My Voice, My Choice with college students.

McDonald elaborated on the significance of these programs, saying, “This is only one of the exciting and very timely research activities in the psychology department. Preventing sexual assault on college campuses is a high priority, and demonstrably effective programs are not as common as you might think. SMU is leading the way in providing programs that have been demonstrated by rigorous research to reduce rates of victimization and increase students’ recognition—and willingness to intervene—on behalf of their friends in risky situations.”