An Evaluation of a Secondary School Primary Prevention Program on Violence in Intimate Relationships

By Jaffe, Peter G.; Sudermann, Marlies et al. | Violence and Victims, January 1, 1992 | Go to article overview

An Evaluation of a Secondary School Primary Prevention Program on Violence in Intimate Relationships


Jaffe, Peter G., Sudermann, Marlies, Reitzel, Deborah, Killip, Steve M., Violence and Victims


A large-scale primary prevention program for wife assault and dating violence was evaluated, employing a measure of attitudes, by means of the London Family Court Clinic Questionnaire on Violence in Relationships. The target audience comprised all students in four high schools. A brief intervention, including a large group presentation on wife assault and dating violence, followed by classroom discussion facilitated by community professionals was instituted. Attitudes, knowledge and behavioral intentions were assessed prior to intervention, immediately afterward, and at five to six weeks postintervention, in a stratified classroom level random sample of the participants. Significant positive attitude, knowledge, and behavioral intention changes were found at posttest, and the majority of these were maintained at delayed follow-up. Striking sex differences were found, with females consistently showing better attitudes than males. A 'backlash' effect was noted among a small number of males after the intervention. It was hypothesized that this group may already be involved in abusive behavior and require secondary, rather than primary, prevention. Students reported a high level of awareness of and experience with violence in their own and their friends' dating and family relationships, and overwhelmingly endorsed primary prevention of relationship violence in the schools.

Conservative current estimates are that 1 of 10 married or cohabiting women are physically abused by their male partners in a given year and 1 of 15 experiences severe repeated violence (MacLeod, 1987). In addition to the physical traumas thus induced, the accompanying psychological and emotional trauma seriously affects victims (Walker, 1979; Gelles & Cornell, 1990; Jaffe, Wolfe, Wilson, & Zak, 1986). A relatively new, but important, area of study is the effect of witnessing wife assault on children, with very significant emotional and behavior problems being found in child and adolescent witnesses (Jaffe, Wolfe, & Wilson, 1990; Fantuzzo, DePaola, Lambert, Martino, Anderson, & Sutton, 1991). Recent studies on dating violence have shown that this also is a prevalent and serious problem (Mercer, 1987; Warshaw, 1988).

Given the scope and costliness of woman abuse, both to victims and their children, and to society, and the dearth of treatment and helping resources, a primary prevention approach to wife assault and dating violence is clearly a matter of urgency. Wife abuse prevention programs aimed at children and teens have been identified as a research area of high priority (Davidson, 1978; Finkelhor, Hoteling, & Yllo\ 1988; Gelles & Straus, 1988).

Helpful conceptualizations of wife assault have come from feminist and social learning perspectives. The social learning model would predict that those who witness wife assault as children would be more likely to repeat the behavior in their own marital and dating relationships (Gelles et al., 1990). This theory appears to be particularly supported for male batterers. Dutton (1982) found that between 40% and 60% of male batterers have witnessed wife assault in their family of origin or have been physically abused by their fathers, while Pagelow (1981) found a 70% rate of observing wife assault in family of origin for husbands of women in shelters. DeMaris and Jackson (1987) found that witnessing wife assault at home was a leading predictor of recidivism for batterers who completed a counseling program. Straus, Gelles, and Steinmetz (1980) found that men from violent homes were 10 times more likely to abuse their wives than men from nonviolent homes. Social learning theory can also be extended to encompass the effects of watching violence on television, in other media, and in world affairs as a conflict-resolution technique. Given the high incidence of violence on television, in videos, movies, and in current affairs reports in newspapers, it would be expected that negative effects on children's and adolescents' approaches to conflict resolution in their own lives would be realized. …

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An Evaluation of a Secondary School Primary Prevention Program on Violence in Intimate Relationships
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