Reprinted from SPSSI Newsletter, November, 2002, No. 219, page 4.

Service Learning and Action Research:
the History of NAPASA


K. Edward Renner
National Action Plan Against Sexual Assault

The National Action Plan Against Sexual Assault (NAPASA) grew out of my community psychology classes at Dalhousie the University, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It started in 1983 when the "South End" rapist was on the loose. The previous sexual assault service had just folded, and four women in my class wanted to "do something" as their class project.

The project the first year supported a class lesson in community organization. By the end of the term, a subcommittee of the local Help Line was in place as the sponsor for a new agency. I then turned our plan into a development grant application which was funded by the federal government, wrote the protocol manual, and trained the initial workers in crisis intervention. By the second year the service was operating out of my research space in the Psychology Department. By the following year, the service had local municipal funding and moved in to its own physical facility with an independent Community Board..

During this early development, the students in my class worked with me in developing the infrastructure and in creating broad based community support. We put in place a record-keeping system, a statistical database, local facts and figures, and produced general information pamphlets. We did public speaking, and generated newspaper and radio coverage. There was a rapid increase in the number of calls for service and a corresponding growth in the number of individuals volunteering to be crisis workers.

Over the years, the students and I moved on to whatever was the next step: working with the police, structuring a medical protocol, and finally, an examination of the treatment victims received when they entered the criminal justice system. This included extensive court watching, the analysis of court records and the examination of trial transcripts with the class lessons and the service learning tracking the evolution of the service from crisis intervention through social influence to action-research.

The project was the most popular one in my community psychology class, sometimes accommodating more than a dozen students. At registration, students would sleep over in order to be first in line to get into the class, which was always the first one closed. Graduate students have structured their M. A. and Ph.D. theses around the project, and over two dozen joint authorship papers and publications have resulted with students and community workers.

We now have a transferable, three-point, social-action plan that can emerge students in a service learning opportunity through helping to create a strong advocacy capacity for a local sexual assault service by:

All of the necessary materials are on our Web site at By connecting with the local sexual assault service an instructor can support the work of the agency while giving students the rare experience of helping to make a difference through academic work, which is what action-research is all about. The best part is that it can continue year after year building on the previous work.

Edward Renner may be reached at for additional information and support on how to use the napasa materials with students as the basis for action-research, service learning or practicum experiences.

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