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UNC researchers awarded $1.79 million CDC grant for sexual violence study

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has awarded a $1.79 million grant to the UNC Injury Prevention Research Center to study the impact of the “Wise Guys: The Next Level,” a rape prevention education program that focuses on adolescent and young men. The four-year study, conducted by a multidisciplinary research team from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, UNC School of Social Work and partners with Children’s Home Society of North Carolina, will also examine the program’s secondary effects of preventing dating violence, bullying, high-risk sexual assault behaviors, and sexual harassment.

The Greensboro-based Children’s Home Society originally designed Wise Guys: The Next Level program to educate young men and boys in Guilford County about intimate partner violence and to prevent sexual assault. The CDC-funded study will determine best practices for applying similar education programs throughout North Carolina and around the country.

“Sexual violence is a highly prevalent and deeply significant social and public health problem,” said co-principal investigator for the evaluation, Kathryn E. (Beth) Moracco, a research associate professor in the department of Health Behavior at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. “Despite the magnitude and severity of sexual violence, little is known about how best to prevent sexual violence perpetration. This critical gap in the sexual violence prevention evidence limits our ability to implement comprehensive programs to prevent and reduce sexual violence perpetration.”

The UNC evaluation, which is expected to enroll 520 participants, will examine whether Wise Guys: The Next Level program helps to sexual violence by addressing known risk and protective factors, such as rape culture and unhealthy masculinity, gender stereotyping, communication and consent in relationships. Although the rape prevention education program has been used in numerous sites that serve boys and young men at high risk for committing sexual violence, few randomized trials have been conducted to test the program’s effectiveness, said co-principal investigator Rebecca Macy, the L. Richardson Preyer Distinguished Chair for Strengthening Families Professor in the UNC School of Social Work.

“Many sexual violence prevention programs are developed by innovative community-based agencies, like the Children’s Home Society,” Macy said. “These community-developed programs are often doing tremendous good, but they lack outcomes to show that good. This CDC funding gives us a unique opportunity to build a practice-researcher partnership to develop rigorous evidence about what works to prevent sexual violence.”