Academic journal article Social Work Research

Evaluating a Sexual Assault and Dating Violence Prevention Program for Urban Youths

Academic journal article Social Work Research

Evaluating a Sexual Assault and Dating Violence Prevention Program for Urban Youths

Article excerpt

A sexual assault and dating violence prevention program presented in an urban middle school was evaluated to assess its influence on the knowledge and attitudes of an intervention group of 46 and a comparison group of 20 African American seventh graders. A quasi-experimental pretest, posttest, follow-up group design was used to evaluate the program's effectiveness. At posttest the intervention group's mean knowledge and attitude scores were significantly higher than pretest mean scores. At follow-up the intervention group's knowledge and attitude scores improved significantly over pretest scores; the comparison group's scores did not improve. At pretest girls had more knowledge and attitudes that were less supportive of sexual assault and dating violence compared with the boys' knowledge and attitudes. At follow-up gender differences disappeared. Results support the need for early prevention programming among youths in inner-city schools.

Key words: adolescents; African Americans; dating violence; prevention; sexual assault

Violence is a pervasive reality in the United States today. Violence in schools has reached epidemic proportions (Coben, Weiss, Mulvey, & Dearwater, 1994) and is the major cause of mortality among youths in the United States (Vaughan et al., 1996; Williams, Stiffman, & O'Neal, 1998).

In addition to many other forms of violence, youths display violence within the context of dating. Much has been written about dating violence among college and high school students (Koss, Gidycz, & Wisniewski, 1987; Ogletree, 1993), but researchers know much less about dating violence among middle school students, and little is known about prevention programs targeting the middle school-age group. National prevalence data about sexual assault and dating violence among youths are difficult to obtain. Official crime statistics often do not record whether a dating relationship existed between victim and perpetrator, and national crime surveys focus on adult respondents. Approximately one-third to one-half of college students report having experienced dating violence (Koss et al.; Ogletree). Estimates for younger adolescents generally range from 10 percent to 35 percent (Bergman, 1992; Foshee, Linder, Bauman, & Langwick, 1996; Rybarik, Dosch, Gilmore, & Krajewski, 1995). However, as many as 57 percent of students in one high school reported that they had engaged in at least one aggressive act against a dating partner within the past year (Avery-Leaf, Cascardi, O'Leary, & Cano, 1997).

Public schools in the inner city often are too beleaguered to offer students sound guidance or protection in negotiating dating relationships (Orenstein, 1994), and adolescents are more reluctant than adults to seek help from service providers because of fear of being blamed and the lack of confidentiality (Foshee et al., 1996). In the community in which the program described in this article was offered, the local Rape Counseling Center (RCC) estimated that about two-thirds of the annual sexual assault cases involved teenage victims. Perhaps most troubling, the RCC learned that four middle schools and five high schools reported incidents of sexual assault in the schools in 1995.

Although some general violence prevention programs have been developed for school systems to respond to the alarming rate of dating violence among adolescents, very little is known about their effectiveness. This is especially true of programs for adolescents in middle schools. Many authors have emphasized the need to evaluate the prevention programs that have emerged (Barone et al., 1995; Lavoie, Vezina, Piche, & Boivin, 1995; Fineran & Bennett, 1998). Among the relatively few evaluation studies of dating violence prevention programs, only a handful of studies have examined changes beyond the immediate effects (Frazier, Valtinson, & Candell, 1995; Heppner, Humphrey, Hildenbrand-Gunn, & DeBord, 1995). …

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