Adolescents' Experiences: Programming Implications for In-School Violence Prevention Programs.

Author:Fawson, Peter R.


A growing body of literature reveals that adolescent boys and girls experience physical, emotional, and sexual abuse at the hands of their dating partners (Fawson, 2015; National Institute of Justice [NIJ], 2008; o'Keefe, 1998). This research indicates a high prevalence of dating violence victimization in boys and girls, with 46 percent reporting experiencing emotional violence, 34 percent physical violence, and 16 percent sexual violence (Fawson, 2015). Furthermore, psychological partner abuse is present; rates vary among boys and girls, with 8.6 to 76 percent of boys and 26 to 86 percent of girls reporting abuse (Esquivel-Santovena, Lambert, & Hamel, 2013). Physical partner violence reported in a national study indicated that boys (66%) and girls (65%) were involved in a physically aggressive relationship (NIJ, 2008). Esquivel-Santovena and colleagues (2013) also found in an international review of partner abuse that both men and women experience sexual violence, with women (3.8-72.6%) experiencing higher rates than men (7-57.2%). Lastly, a national survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC; 2010) suggested that 9.4 percent of students experience dating violence by their boyfriend or girlfriend. All of these studies suggest that dating violence is prevalent among youth.

Over the past several decades, researchers have worked to alleviate the deleterious effects of adolescent dating violence. Youth dating violence prevention programs are presented in a variety of formats, which can affect results. For example, many programs are presented in one session, which means that program content is delivered in a single day or a onetime session. Although this method is efficient, it may not allow participants to process their thoughts and feelings related to the material. Studies of one-session programs demonstrate that, when male participants are not allowed enough time to internalize and come to terms with new concepts, such as male privilege and violence, they may become more violent toward females. This issue has been described as a backlash effect (Avery-Leaf, Cascardi, O'Leary, & Cano, 1997).

Violence prevention programs may alternatively be delivered in a multi-session format. Multiple-session programs encourage participants to integrate what they have learned between sessions. For instance, participants can complete homework assignments that help them to gain more awareness of social structures related to violence. Research suggests that multiple-session workshops help students decrease violent attitudes that justify the use of dating violence as a means to resolving conflict (Avery-Leaf et al., 1997; Mytton, DiGuiseppi, Gough, Taylor, & Logan, 2006). In addition, multiple-session programs focused on decreasing sexual coercion in dating situations significantly reduce violent coercive attitudes among participants (Mytton et al., 2006; Pacifici, Stoolmiller, & Nelson, 2001).

Dating and sexual violence prevention programs are found to be effective when administered in high school health classes (Mytton et al., 2006). Literature on prevention programs presents a variety of content areas of intervention and prevention programs in school settings. These content areas may include healthy sexuality, dating relationships, and developing skills to resolve conflict (CDC, 2007; O'Keefe, 1998).

Although several dating violence prevention programs have been evaluated for effectiveness using quantitative measures (Cornelius & Resseguie, 2007; Fawson, 2012; Mytton et al., 2006; Ting, 2009; Whitaker et al., 2006), few inquiries have used qualitative data to explore how participants experienced violence prevention programs or the processes that led to positive change. Evaluative studies that did include some qualitative methodology used it to supplement quantitative findings. Belknap, Haglund, Felzer, Pruszynski, and Schneider (2013) collected qualitative essays along with quantitative data to deepen their understanding of the impact of a theater violence prevention program with Latino participants. Ball, Kerig, and Rosenbluth (2009) used qualitative interviews to identify which parts of an Expect Respect support group were the most meaningful to participants. These data captured changes that the participants experienced as a result of the program, as well as participant reflections on the facilitator's style. Ocampo, Shelley, and Jaycox (2007) used focus groups to hone in on specific themes related to help-seeking behavior following a three-session Ending Violence Program. This analysis clarified quantitative findings and increased the authors' understanding of how the teen participants related to the topics.

Although a quantitative or mixed methods evaluation typically focuses on determining the outcome effectiveness of a program, a separate qualitative analysis has the potential to identify or expand themes that may not have been anticipated by the researchers. Results may be used to focus on the process of the program delivery and to provide information critical to further program development.

Theoretical Framework

Although many theories have been used to describe the phenomenon of dating violence, feminist theory provides a critical social lens for understanding how dating violence occurs in relationships. The classical feminist perspective suggests that dating violence in patriarchal societies is gender based. The feminist perspective argues that dating violence is a result of the patriarchal social structure that socializes males and females into gender-specific roles (Bogart, 1988; Pagelow, 1981). The feminist perspective posits that male domination is the underlying cause of violence against women (Dobash & Dobash, 1979). Research supports the feminist perspective by establishing relationships between abuse of women and ideology of patriarchy or structured gender inequality (Dobash & Dobash, 1988). Feminists challenge the social structures that reinforce the patriarchal worldview that male domination over women is not only normal but expected and therefore may influence males to perpetuate violence in society. Feminist scholars argue that the motive for men to exercise control over their partners stems from their need to maintain their dominant status in the relationship and in society (Dobash & Dobash, 1979; Dobash, Dobash, Wilson, & Daly, 1992). This perspective suggests that violence against women is based on a maledominated society. The authors agree that these claims are true. They are interested in the ways in which patriarchy may affect both boys and girls who participated in a dating violence prevention program. This theory highlights the interaction between culture and patriarchy; it is particularly interesting to see how this affects boys and girls in dating relationships and how delivery of program content is received by these youth.

Dating Violence Program Description

Relationships Without Violence (RWV) is a theoretically based four-session prevention program that targets high school populations. It is based on the best evidence-based practices that have been used nationally and internationally in school violence prevention (Cornelius & Resseguie, 2007; Fawson, 2012; Mytton et al., 2006). The program focuses on raising the participants' awareness of dating violence, including prevalence, types of violence, and cultural influences that maintain violent attitudes and behaviors. It then turns to skill building, in which practical sessions provide teenagers the needed tools to prevent dating violence. The RWV program includes methods to prevent dating violence, both directly...

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