“Watching young women, who begin by saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, say ‘no, I’m not interested! Stop asking me!’ is the most exciting part.” — Simpson Rowe

Journalist Robbie Owens at CBS DFW Channel 11 covered the research of SMU clinical psychologist Lorelei Simpson Rowe and her co-authors Ernest N. Jouriles and Renee McDonald.

The three developed a video-based program for teaching young women assertiveness training and allowing them to practice it with the goal of helping them resist unwanted sexual overtures that could ultimately result in sexual assault. Jouriles and McDonald also devised a bystander intervention program that teaches young men and women how to recognize and intervene in a dangerous situation.

The virtual-reality simulation component of “My Voice, My Choice” utilizes a software program developed by Jouriles and McDonald in conjunction with SMU’s award-winning Guildhall video gaming program. Jouriles and McDonald are clinical psychologists in the SMU Psychology Department. Jouriles is professor and chair. McDonald is a professor and associate dean of research and academic affairs for Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.

Simpson Rowe, an associate professor and graduate program co-director in the SMU Department of Psychology, is lead author on the pilot study from SMU.

Results of their study found teen girls were less likely to report being sexually victimized after learning to assertively resist unwanted sexual overtures and practicing resistance in a realistic virtual environment.

The effects persisted over a three-month period following the training.

Owens interviewed the researchers,and McDonald told her that girls learn, “You can be nice and strong. But, be strong. And if nice doesn’t work, be strong and don’t worry about being nice. Get out of the situation.”

The CBS 11 segment, “College Women Learn How To Repel Virtual Aggressor” aired Feb. 20, 2015.

Read and see the full story.


By Robbie Owens
CBS DFW Channel 11

A parent’s drive to protect is a powerful motivator: just ask Ernest Jouriles, PhD and Renee McDonald, PhD. A decade ago, the husband and wife team of researchers in the Psychology department at Southern Methodist University saw their daughter Nicola’s approaching adolescence as a huge incentive to begin work on a training program to help young women diffuse—or at least re-direct– sexually charged situations.

But, early results failed to engage the teenage mind. So why not tap into the video game generation’s love of gadgets?
“We were thinking, ‘can we do something with virtual reality that could help teens basically practice skills to get out of situations that are potentially difficult—that might be dangerous’,” says Dr. Jouriles, co-author on the research, clinical psychologist, professor and chair of the SMU Department of Psychology.

Here’s how it works: students are first taught assertiveness skills. Those skills are then tested during a real time ‘virtual reality’ session. A male research assistant controls the avatar and acts as an aggressor. Of course, the goggles and monitor give up the gig—this exercise in assertiveness isn’t real. But, research assistant and SMU Senior Katie Bridges says it certainly feels real. “You start feeling uneasy,” says Bridges.

Students first learn assertiveness skills. Then those skills are tested during a real time ‘virtual reality’ session. A male research assistant controls the avatar and acts as an aggressor.

“It’s very brief,” says Dr. McDonald, co-author on the research, “which is unusual, and has such a strong effect on victimization rates.” Dr. McDonald is a clinical psychologist, professor and associate dean of research and academic affairs for SMU’s Dedman College. “We’ve been able to reduce them by half among women who go through the program.”

Lorelei Simpson Rowe, PhD, is the lead author on the study, a clinical psychologist, and associate professor in the department. She says she taught young women self-defense during her undergraduate days at Michigan State and says the ‘virtual reality’ training is a perfect extension of her passion to help strengthen young women.

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