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Blog Post

School-Level Interventions Reduce Dating Violence

This post appears courtesy of Dr. John H. Laub, Director of the National Institute for Justice (NIJ). Last week, the National Institute of Justice released new findings which suggest that school-level interventions can significantly reduce dating violence among middle school students. The study focused on the effectiveness of dating violence and sexual harassment prevention programs in 30 New York City public middle schools. When school-level interventions were implemented in the study, dating violence dropped by up to 50 percent. The findings suggest that a few low-cost initiatives could go a long way to reducing violence among young people. While dating violence and harassment are typically thought of as problems affecting grown adults, it’s a real problem among young people and one that can have long-lasting consequences. In the last school year, nearly half of 7th through 12th graders said they experienced sexual harassment. Physical injury, poor mental health, increased high-risk behavior, and increased school avoidance are all tied to dating violence and sexual harassment, which is why the Department of Justice has made it a priority to investigate initiatives that could reduce the prevalence of these life-altering crimes. There are a number of varied programs across the country working to curb dating violence, but there has been a lack of scientific data supporting programs for middle school students. The NIJ’s study on middle school prevention programs is one of the only studies on the effectiveness of initiatives designed to reduce dating violence among 6th and 7th graders. We hope these findings will allow groups to better optimize their resources and improve the tools they’re using to prevent dating violence. Relationships early in life can have a lasting impact on the maturation of young people, and the NIJ study is a hopeful sign that a few low-cost initiatives could go a long way to improving the lives of our young people and setting them up for a healthier future. The multi-level, randomized trial found that:
  • School-level interventions such as school-based “boundary agreements”, which are akin to restraining orders between students, and increased faculty and security presence in “hot spots” effectively reduced dating violence and sexual harassment -- in some cases reducing dating violence by as much as 50 percent.  
  • Combining these school-level interventions with a classroom-level intervention administered through a six-session curriculum also reduced sexual harassment.  
  • Classroom-level interventions alone, which included instruction on state laws and penalties, consequences for perpetrators, and the construction of gender roles and healthy relationships, were not effective.
Other critical findings included:
  • The combination of the classroom and school-level interventions and the school-level interventions alone led to a 32-47 percent reduction in peer sexual violence victimization and perpetration six months after the intervention was implemented.
  • Students receiving the school-level intervention were more likely to intend to intervene as a bystander six months post-intervention.
Focus groups helped researchers understand how interventions were employed and received.  The groups confirmed that the interventions were straightforward to put in place, were implemented as planned, and were supported by teachers. The possible implications of these results are substantial. The success of the school-level interventions is particularly important because these interventions can be implemented with very few extra costs to schools. Given the large size of the study (with more than 2,500 students) and the ethnic diversity of these students, these interventions may be successful among a broad range of populations. This study was co-funded by the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, U.S. Department of Education.  For more information, download the full study (PDF) from NIJ.
Updated April 7, 2017