Academic journal article Violence and Victims

The Effects of Gender Violence/Harassment Prevention Programming in Middle Schools: A Randomized Experimental Evaluation

Academic journal article Violence and Victims

The Effects of Gender Violence/Harassment Prevention Programming in Middle Schools: A Randomized Experimental Evaluation

Article excerpt

In this experiment, 123 sixth and seventh grade classrooms from Cleveland area schools were randomly assigned to one of two five-session curricula addressing gender violence/sexual harassment (GV/SH) or to a no-treatment control. Three-student surveys were administered. Students in the law and justice curricula, compared to the control group, had significantly improved outcomes in awareness of their abusive behaviors, attitudes toward GV/SH and personal space, and knowledge. Students in the interaction curricula experienced lower rates of victimization, increased awareness of abusive behaviors, and improved attitudes toward personal space. Neither curricula affected perpetration or victimization of sexual harassment. While the intervention appeared to reduce peer violence victimization and perpetration, a conflicting finding emerged-the intervention may have increased dating violence perpetration (or at least the reporting of it) but not dating violence victimization.

Keywords : teen dating violence; middle schools; prevention curricula; randomized experiment

Gender violence (including interpersonal or dating violence) and sexual harassment are serious problems in K-12 schools. The terms "gender violence" and "sexual harassment" (GV/SH) are broadly defined under both national and international laws, and also invoke social movements associated with efforts to end violence against women. The movement against GV/SH in the United States originally centered on rape and domestic violence but now covers a wider range of violations, including sexual abuse in prisons, sexual harassment in the workplace, and attacks based on perceived or actual sexual orientation. Gender violence is defined as any interpersonal, organizational, or politically oriented violation perpetrated against people due to their gender identity, sexual orientation, or location in the hierarchy of male-dominated social systems (O'Toole, Schiffman, & Edwards, 2007).

In the context of education, the term "sexual harassment" comes from US Federal Law Title IX (1972) that requires compliance from all educational institutions that receive federal financial assistance. Sexual harassment is defined as all unwanted/unwelcomed behaviors of a sexual nature that interfere with one's right to receive an equal educational opportunity and that meets the threshold of "severe, pervasive, or repeated" behaviors (Davis, 1999; Department of Education, 2001).

Surveys and lawsuits attest to the presence and negative impact on students of GV/ SH (Stein, 1995, 1999). GV/SH can lead to serious injuries for its victims, poorer mental/ physical health, more "high risk"/deviant behavior, and increased school avoidance (Fineran & Gruber, 2004). Despite this, few studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of GV/SH prevention programs in schools, and those that exist often lacked research designs of sufficient scientific rigor, with only a few having used an experimental design (Hickman, Jaycox, & Aronoff, 2004). Also, most research on this topic has been on programs that target older middle and high school students. In this article, we provide a detailed account of the results of a randomized experiment of a GV/SH prevention program for sixth and seventh grade students in three suburban school districts with immediate borders of Cleveland, Ohio. Our main research question is: Do GV/SH prevention programs in middle schools reduce the probability of GV/SH perpetration and victimization, have no effect, or lead to increases in violence? In addition, we explore the impact of the prevention curricula on student attitudes and knowledge as they relate to GV/SH and sexual harassment. We explore whether prevention programs that incorporate a gender socialization/interaction-based component are more effective than programs that do not but are fact-based and emphasize laws and consequences or than no programming at all (control group).

REVIEW OF RELEVANT LITERATURE

Scope of the Problem

GV/SH among teenagers have serious health consequences, including significantly poorer mental and physical health, and more trauma symptoms (Howard et al. …

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