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Prevention, education key to halting dating violence

Published on -9/16/2013, 9:04 AM

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This is the last in a series about abuse and violence in adolescent dating and romantic relationships.

Q: How can schools address adolescent dating violence?

A: In the August 2012 Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics titled "Pediatrics," there is a study reported on Adolescent Dating Violence: A National Assessment of School Counselors' Perceptions and Practices. Findings revealed 81.3 percent of the 305 counselors who responded to the survey reported their schools did not have protocols for handling adolescent dating violence. The questionnaires were sent to members of the American School Counselors Association.

In addition, 90 percent of school counselors reported in the past two years there had been no training on assisting survivors of teen dating abuse. Also lacking in 83 percent of schools were any student surveys asking teens about dating abuse and violence. In 76 percent of schools, there was no committee that addressed health and safety issues for students, including dating abuse.

From this study, several suggestions were made to improve services for teen survivors of teen dating violence. First, community organizations related to school health concerns should provide continuing education for school counselors and other school personnel involved in preventing and assisting victims of teen dating violence. Examples of these organizations would be the American School Health Association, the National Association of School Nurses and the American School Counselors Association.

A second suggestion from this study would be for schools to periodically assess their students in order to determine the extent and characteristics of adolescent dating violence. There needs to be a policy for how often the assessment will be done, who will be responsible, to whom results will be reported, and what strategies will be adopted.

A third recommendation would be to provide results to school administrators and legislators about what schools need to do to address adolescent dating violence. When surveys reveal sexual activity that can result in pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, the state statutes dictate what schools can do in referring minors to health care or family planning resources need to be known and understood.

The study recommended further school counselors develop more active roles in encouraging students to report dating violence and to encourage students to report victimization. Finally, the study recommended school counselors and health professionals need to communicate and collaborate on preventing teen dating violence or dealing with these problems.

The Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence in 2008 received a grant to expand already existing programs for older teens to middle school adolescents. This program is under the Center for Healthy Teen Relationships, a statewide Idaho prevention and education initiative to build healthy relationships and prevent adolescent dating abuse and violence. The center published the following results.

Some middle or junior high schools did not believe their students dated and so were uninterested in any programs. This revelation required the program to change its approach to middle schools and their communities.

Activities for awareness and prevention were more successful among middle schools if teens were involved and there was a positive social norm theme. Logos, types of media and types of materials were developed, reviewed and finalized by diverse groups of teens.

Creating many avenues to engage youth work best. Examples would be for health curriculums to cover dating violence and also healthy relationships for teens, for schools to host annual events and contests, and for schools to commemorate a day designated for Dating Violence Prevention.

The program learned teens and parents providing positive feedback about how the Center for Healthy Teen Relationships was working was helpful. The number of Idaho high school students who reported physical abuse was 13.7 percent in 2007, 10.6 percent in 2009 and 8.7 percent in 2011.

The Idaho Center learned middle school is important. The peer group is so influential in that age group. The topics that need addressed are bullying, sexual harassment and dating abuse. An active program creates positive school environments and raises the level of respect in dating relationships.

The government website FindYouthInformation.gov published the results of a study from the National Institute of Justice that included 2,500 sixth- and seventh-grade students in 30 New York City schools. The research project reduced dating violence in middle school students by approximately 50 percent.

Success required multiple interventions. Examples are posters to increase awareness and encourage reports of abuse, higher levels of faculty and security in areas identified as "hot spots," and temporary school-based restraining orders against perpetrators. Classroom interventions alone were not enough. Classroom curriculum included consequences for dating violence and abuse, state laws and sanctions, and input on gender roles and healthy relationships.

Six months after implementation of combined classroom and school-wide interventions, there was a decrease of 32 percent to 47 percent in sexual violence victimization. In addition, students who experienced school-wide interventions said they would be more likely to intervene as bystanders.

Prevention and education regarding dating violence and abuse needs to be directed toward and involve students, parents and community resources. In order to be truly effective, these initiatives need to be preceded by parents and schools teaching healthy relationship skills.

Judy Caprez is an associate professor of social work at Fort Hays State University. Send your questions in care of the department of sociology and social work, Rarick Hall, FHSU.

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