FAU hosts groundbreaking sexual assault prevention program

The university is the first school in the U.S. to feature the course.


FAU freshman and business major April McPherson holds a sign during the spring 2018 Slut Walk, an event promoting consent and body positivity. The message on her sign is a core belief of Flip the Script — a scientifically proven sexual assault prevention course only available at FAU in the U.S. Photo by Violet Castano

Kristen Grau, Staff Writer

FAU student Berta Felix has taken Flip the Script, a program scientifically proven to prevent sexual assault against women, three times since first hearing about it — and the second two times were after she used the tactics she learned in the first to fend off an unwanted advance.

FAU health promotion organization Owls Care’s Flip the Script is a 12-hour-long sexual assault resistance training course, and FAU is the first college in the nation to implement it. The prevention-based curriculum lessened the risk of sexual assault by almost 50 percent in one study conducted on university women.

Felix, a senior elementary education major, once spent the night out with a male friend in downtown West Palm Beach. He paid for drinks and eventually dropped her off at home, but started to kiss her moments before she was about to go inside, even after she refused.

Using what she learned in Flip the Script, she began assessing the situation to find a way out.

“I was aware. I’m in the parking lot in the back of my house and asked myself, ‘Who can help me?’” she said. “I told him I had to go because I knew I had to get out one way or another.”

After her verbal strategies fell to deaf ears, she resorted to a jab to his stomach and a slap to his face. She left unharmed and soon after took the class two more times. Once she graduates, she hopes to become a Flip the Script instructor.

“Flip the Script is something I believed in from the start,” Jamie Vaughn, a course facilitator, said. “The philosophy of the program and the [success] of the clinical trials made me believe that women at FAU should have access to it.”

Though Flip the Script is labeled “resistance training,” it’s not just self-defense — it’s risk reduction. Facilitators teach physical tactics, but the emphasis is on prevention, not reaction. By discussing consent, gender identity and healthy relationships, the program aims to create “safe spaces” for women to talk about topics that are considered taboo in traditional sex education classrooms.

That philosophy is rooted in a few core beliefs:

  1. Rape is never the victim’s fault.
  2. Strangers usually aren’t responsible — it’s people you know.
  3. College women are most at risk for sexual assault.
  4. Women can recognize manipulative behavior by identifying their goals with their partner.

At the heart of those beliefs lies the result of 10 years of research: when women are equipped with the right knowledge, sexual assault can be prevented regardless of what they’re wearing.

The program is the brainchild of Dr. Charlene Senn at the Canadian University of Windsor. There, she “developed, revised, and pilot tested” Flip the Script for over 10 years, according to the Sexual Assault Resistance Education Centre.

The class is divided into four units. The first unit, Assess, teaches women to scan scenarios for verbal and behavioral signs of assault.

Acknowledge, the second unit, follows by assuring participants that they are never to blame for sexual assault. This portion also helps women face internal conflicts they’re gone through during uncomfortable situations with a friend, acquaintance, or date.

In the third unit, Act, participants are equipped with both verbal and physical techniques so that they can resort to whatever they’re most comfortable with if they ever need to use resistance.

The course comes to a close with the last unit, Enhance, which explains that effective communication skills can possibly lessen the chance of sexual assault. It dials in on healthy relationship patterns and the importance of consent. The fact that sexual assault is more likely to come from someone you know instead of from “the stranger in the dark alley” is especially prominent in this unit, Vaughn said.

According to the six and 12-month post-surveys, none of FAU’s nearly 100 participants have reported they were raped. Many have reported using the verbal tactics from the course to fend off possible sexual assaults, but few have reported using physical means, according to Vaughn.

Felix said she appreciates how “personal” the instructors make the training, which consists of

videos, games, group activities, and role-playing in a “relaxed environment,” according to Vaughn. Even playing ‘rape myth tic-tac-toe’ with snacks in a big circle on the floor, “they learn a lot,” she said.

Vaughn said it’s a “challenge” to motivate a commuter-dominant population to show up to Flip the Script’s weekend dates. However, weeknight classes are offered as well. Classes usually see an attendance of anywhere from four to 25 people who identify as women.

Director of Flip the Script and Health Promotion Coordinator Sarah Rauzin was impressed but skeptical of the course at first, she told the New York Times.

She said that “training women to reduce their risk has been seen as telling women: ‘Rape is your fault for not acting like the good girl.’”

But rather than teaching women how to act, Flip the Script teaches women to analyze how others act — especially others they know.

Discussing sexual assault in terms of personal relationships the way Flip the Script does in its Enhance unit isn’t common in the U.S. Instead, sex education curriculums in 37 states, with some requiring the “negative outcomes of teen sex and pregnancy,” encourage abstinence — yet abortion rates are doubled compared to the U.S. socioeconomic equivalent, the Netherlands.

From grade school levels all the way to the workplace, people are struggling to form proven,  preventative curriculums like Flip the Script. On one end of the age spectrum, “fewer than half of high schools and only a fifth of middle schools teach all 16 topics recommended by the CDC as essential components of sex education,” according to Planned Parenthood.

It’s not much better among adults either. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found that in the workplace, “much of the training done over the last 30 years has not worked as a prevention tool — it’s been too focused on simply avoiding legal liability.”

However, Flip the Script has showed positive results for women at FAU like Felix.

“Are we going to prevent assault 100 percent of the time? No, but it takes awareness,” said FAU Police Chief Sean Brammer, who hosts another women’s self defense course on campus. “We want to be part of the solution.”

Flip the Script will offer three more sessions during fall 2018. You can register for the next session on Oct. 13 here.

Kristen Grau is a staff writer with the University Press. For questions regarding this or other stories, email [email protected].