While teen dating violence prevention programs increased knowledge and changed student attitudes to be less supportive of such behavior, they did not actually reduce dating violence, according to this meta-analysis of research on middle- and high school intervention programs, report investigators.
The researchers noted a small reduction in victimization (i.e., experiences of psychological abuse and sexual and nonsexual violence in dating relationships) following participating in a program, but it was not sustained over time
For their analysis, researchers used the results of 23 rigorous studies on the short- and long-term impact of school-based interventions on student knowledge of teen dating violence, attitudes toward teen dating violence, and frequency of perpetration or victimization in adolescent intimate partner relationships.
School-based studies in the past have found that nearly 9 percent of ninth through 12th graders experience physical dating violence, and 10 percent to 25 percent experience dating violence when including both physical and verbal aggression. It has also been found that these behaviors are often predictive of interpersonal violence in college and into adulthood.
Students who experience intimate partner violence are more likely to experience depression, binge eating, substance abuse, and antisocial behavior later in life. All of these factors increase the need for effective intervention at earlier stages.
"In recent years, growing concern about the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses has led to an amplified call for programs that intervene in intimate partner violence earlier," said study co-author Lisa De La Rue, an assistant professor of counseling psychology at the University of San Francisco. "As more middle- and high schools begin to implement dating violence prevention programs it is imperative that educators and policymakers understand which programs have been successful.
School-based prevention programs were found to be successful in having a significant impact on dating violence knowledge and attitudes and, unlike victimization experiences, changes in knowledge were sustained over time.
Although an increase in knowledge is important, programs need to be able to contribute to actual behavior change," said De La Rue, "It is well established in the educational and psychological research literature and in public health, that changes in knowledge and attitude are not associated with reductions in actual behavior. As a field we need to develop programs that can actually impact behavior change.
While compiling previous research for their analysis, the researchers found that studies were much less likely to measure dating violence perpetration behaviors and victimization experiences than knowledge and attitudes. Of the 23 studies included in the meta-analysis only five included perpetration measures and only five included measures of victimization.
"It is imperative to find ways to balance the needs and limitations of school-based research, while also ensuring that we gather this important and sensitive information, said De La Rue.
Although many states have taken steps to require dating violence prevention as part of standard health curriculum in middle or high schools, not all take the additional step of providing funding to implement and study these programs. The researchers called for more funding to study program success, modify existing programs, and implement effective programs more widely.
Additionally, the researchers encouraged schools to include dating violence prevention as part of efforts to improve school safety climates. Teachers, staff, and administrators should be equipped with clear prevention strategies to be able to monitor behavior and provide support to victims.
The researchers noted that it is difficult to determine community factors that may effect teen dating violence including exposure to community violence and to healthy relationships. Currently, school-based intervention programs focus heavily on individuals and peer factors, but the researchers encourage programs that widen that focus to include community and family factors.
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