A four-year, $3 million grant to implement and evaluate a multilevel sexual assault and sexual harassment prevention intervention study for active-duty airmen has been awarded to researchers at UTHealth Houston by the U.S. Department of Defense.
Belinda Hernandez, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of health promotion and behavioral sciences at UTHealth Houston School of Public Health, is the principal investigator of the study.
According to the Department of Defense, sexual assault and sexual harassment within the military have continued to increase over the past three years, creating significant public health problems. Sexual assault can have serious consequences for the survivors and negatively affect productivity, mission readiness, and overall service members’ well-being. Sexual assault and sexual harassment can be prevented by implementing interventions that promote healthy relationship skills; however, there is no current intervention for active-duty service members.
“We've been seeing increases in sexual assaults in the military, so we know it’s a huge problem, and there aren’t a lot of programs that are designed exclusively for the military,” said Hernandez, who is based in San Antonio. “For the past three years, we have been developing the Code of Respect program alongside our military partners, and in our preliminary work, we have found some positive results. So, now this study will allow us to see if we can prevent sexual assaults from occurring and change the sexual assault rate.”
The Code of Respect is an innovative, web-based, multilevel sexual assault and sexual harassment prevention intervention for active-duty airmen.
The goal of the four-year, cluster, randomized, controlled trial, which will be held at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in Burlington County, New Jersey, is to determine the efficacy of the Code of Respect in preventing sexual assault and sexual harassment among junior enlisted airmen, who are the most at risk for sexual harassment and sexual assault in the Air Force.
The study will recruit over 1,000 junior enlisted airmen, typically within the 18- to 24-year-old range.
“This grant shows that sexual assault and sexual harassment prevention is a priority to the Department of Defense. They recognize sexual assault and harassment are problems, and they’re willing to put funding forward to address them,” Hernandez said.
This study builds on UTHealth Houston’s strong partnership with the current military advisory group, which will guide the study, and preliminary studies that established the Code of Respect’s feasibility and favorability.
“I look forward to continuing the partnership with UTHealth Houston School of Public Health, creating significant initiatives that benefit our military communities,” said Iraina Witherspoon, director of the Equal Employment Office at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.
Co-investigators on the study are Melissa Peskin, PhD; Ross Shegog, PhD; Christine Markham, PhD; and Susan Tortolero Emery, PhD, from the School of Public Health, and Elizabeth Baumler, PhD, from The University of Texas Medical Branch.
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