Healthy Relationships
Violence Prevention Curriculum
by Wendy L. Josephson, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology, University of Winnipeg and Jocelyn Proulx, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychology, University of Manitoba and Research Associate, Manitoba Research Centre on Family Violence and Violence Against Women

In the context of the Healthy Relationships evaluation, Dr. Josephson is the Principal Investigator and Dr. Proulx is the Co-Investigator.

Republished with permission

This research covers dating violence prevention in junior and early senior high school students. The objectives of the proposed research are to:
  1. evaluate the effectiveness of the "Healthy Relationships" (Men For Change, 1994a,b,c) dating violence prevention program for adolescents
  2. determine what prevention advantage can be achieved by offering a long-term, integrated program as compared with a single module at any one grade level
  3. identify personal and relationship characteristics that contribute to dating violence, and the characteristics that influence how individuals change in response to the prevention program
  4. identify the contribution on intermediate outcomes such as knowledge, attitude change, enhanced self-esteem and self-efficacy to changes and individual differences in victimization and committing violence in dating relationships.
These objectives are consistent with the objectives of the Women and Change theme, since they will contribute to a knowledge base about the causes and consequences of a problem confronting women, and will contribute to knowledge that could lead to effective solutions. Violence against women has been identified as an important problem requiring change in Canada, and violence against women by their intimate partners is one of the most serious threats to Canadian women's physical and psychological well-being (e.g., Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women, 1993). Violence by their intimate partners may begin very early in young women's relationships (e.g., Smith & Williams, 1992). That young women are victims of dating violence is a social concern in its own right (e.g., Currie & McLean, 1993; Phaneuf, 1990), and the patterns established in early intimate relationships may also contribute to later violence in the lives of adult women (e.g., Roscoe & Benaske, 1985). Primary prevention programs focused on dating violence may therefore be a highly effective way to address the larger social problem of violence against women (cf., Browne, 1993; Lloyd, 1991).

The proposed research is a natural continuation of the principal investigator's previous work on dating violence, conflict tactics, determinants of children's aggression, and adolescent mental health. My past research in these latter two areas has focused almost entirely on mass media effects. Since aggression and mental health are clearly multi-determined, the current research is part of an attempt to look at a broader range of variables contributing to these outcomes. The co-investigator has also begun to do research in the area of dating violence, and has addressed the impact of violence on children in previous work with sexually abused children.

A variety of programs have been developed to prevent girls and young women from becoming the victims of violence in their dating relationships (e.g., Manitoba Women's Directorate, 1992) but very few of the available programs have been formally evaluated (Mahlstedt, Falcone, & Rice-Spring, 1993; Mulligan & Mitchell, 1992/93). The proposed research will evaluate the effectiveness of the "Healthy Relationships" Curriculum for grades 7 to 9, developed in Canada by Men For Change (Men For Change, 1994a,b,c). The "Healthy Relationships" curriculum is consistent with current recommendations for programs to prevent violence against women (Frazier, Valtinson, & Candell, 1994); MacLeod, 1994; Mahlstedt et al., 1992; Mulligan & Mitchell, 1992/93): It has knowledge, skills, and attitude components; it deals with the issue of unequal power and its consequences. It includes material to increase personal safety, communicatiion skills, and knowledge about the components of healthy relationships. It includes themes directed at reducing the isolation of victims. It incorporates activities that are intended to challenge stereotypes and attitudes that support violence against women, while enhancing students' self-esteem and empowering them to bring about change.

These features are shared by a variety of other programs (e.g., ASAP: A School-Based Anti-Violence Program; Jaffe, Reitzel, Sudermann, & Killip, 1990), but the "Healthy Relationships" series has also taken an integrated, long-term approach to dating violence prevention, which the other typically have not. Each volume of the series present a module of instruction and activities for incorporation into the regular curriculum over 4 to 5 class periods in one of the target grades (7 through 9). Modules at each grade level can stand alone to meet the learning and other change objectives for that grade but, taken together, the three modules are intended to build knowledge, attitudes and skills over time.

One dating violence prevention program that has been evaluated is the ASAP program developed in London, Ontario. Jaffe, Reitzel, Sudermann, & Killip (1992) documented significant changes in knowledge, attitudes, and behavioural intentions, immediately and 6 weeks later, following a single ASAP workshop for high school students. To provide a basis for comparison, we will use the same knowledge and behavioural intention measures used by Jaffe and his colleagues, wherever they are applicable. However, to measure attitudes we will employ an instrument that has been developed recently for use with adolescents as young as the 7th grade, and includes separate scales for attitudes toward physical, psychological, and sexual violence in dating relationships (Byers, 1995).

Beyond program evaluation, the proposed research will contribute to knowledge in the field by investigating the mechanisms by which change is brought about. The theoretical perspective we will employ is social cognitive theory (e.g., Bandura, 1989). According to social cognitive theory, change is brought about by three mechanisms: empowerment, self-evaluation, and readjustment of internal standards. EMPOWERMENT arises (e.g., Ozer & Bandura, 1990) when individuals acquire the knowledge, skills, and self-efficacy (expectancy of successful performance) to take successful action in their environments. Bird, Stith, & Schladale (1991) have found that college-aged men and women who used confrontative and emotionally negative conflict tactics were significantly at risk for involvement in dating violence. According to social cognitive theory, the "Healthy Relationships" program should reduce students' reliance on such tactics, by providing knowledge, skills, and self-efficacy for constructive and non-violent conflict resolution. These should lead, in turn, to lower levels of dating violence among those students who receive it.

According to social cognitive theory, SELF-EVALUATION PROCESSES (e.g., guilt, shame, regret) and anticipated social consequences can prevent the emergence or continuance of socially harmful behaviours such as violence. Negative attitudes toward violence are likely to be a part of the socialization process of most boys and girls, but they may be counteracted by misogynist attitudes that justify violence against women. Numerous studies have found evidence that such attitudes contribute to men's violence against women (e.g., Finn, 1986; Christopher, Owens, & Stecker, 1993; Kristiansen & Giulietti, 1990). Indeed, DeKeseredy's work (e.g., DeKeseredy & Kelly, 1993) suggests that male peer groups who share patriarchal attitudes may provide social support for dating violence by relieving or preventing the self- evaluative stress that would otherwise be experienced by men following abuse of their dating partners. The "Healthy Relationships" program encourages students to challenge and change attitudes that contribute to violence against women. By doing this in an open classroom setting, the dating violence prevention program would thus be expected to change sexist and pro- violence attitudes directly and to counteract perceptions of peer support for dating violence, particularly among boys. The attitude change would be expected to mediate changes in dating violence behaviour.

A second aspect of the self-evaluation process, self-esteem, is also expected to change as a result of the "Healthy Relationships" program. The development of conflict resolution skills and self- efficacy is expected to increase overall self-esteem among both boys and girls. It is expected that the self-esteem of girls will be increased by the attitude-change activities, over and above this, because attitudes that justify and promote violence against women are likely to be a source of low self-esteem among girls. Self-esteem is an important outcome in itself, but we also expect that it will increase girls' likelihood of leaving an abusive dating relationship and reduce their later likelihood of victimization by dating partners. As self-efficacy, self-esteem, and attitudes change, social cognitive theory would predict that students (especially girls) exposed to the dating violence prevention program will readjust their INTERNAL STANDARDS, so that they will be less satisfied with physically or psychologically abusive relationships. This, as the third proposed mechanism for change, is expected to lead them to end abusive relationships. In addition, we expect that, for both boys and girls, changing internal standards of behaviour will be reflected in more positive behavioural intentions to provide support for peers who have been victims of dating violence, and a stronger behavioural intent to intervene or seek help in cases of dating abuse (cf., Jaffe et al., 1992; Mahlstedt et al, 1993).

To obtain more information about the context and mechanisms of successful change programs (cf., Kazdin, 1993), two relationship variables will be included in the data set, as well. We will ask about dating status, because Makepeace (1987) found that early daters were more likely to become perpetrators or victims of dating violence and because it may be especially advantageous to begin dating violence prevention before participants begin dating (cf., Gwartney-Gibbs, Stockard, & Bohmer, 1987). The dating status questions will also allow us to determine if a relationship is continuing from the previous data collection period or has ended. The degree of involvement in dating relationships will be measured as well, since there is reason to believe (e.g., Bethke & DeJoy, 1993; Kasian & Painter, 1992; Rusbult & Martz, 1995; Stets, 1995) that there is more risk of dating violence and psychological abuse as partners become more committed to the relationship.

It is expected that some pre-intervention circumstances will make students especially susceptible or resistant to the dating violence prevention program. Initially very low levels of self-efficacy and self-esteem may prevent some students from responding to the prevention program. Involvement in a violent relationship, especially if one is the perpetrator and finds the relationship satisfying, may lead to resistance as well. Jones (1991) and Jaffe et al. (1992) have found evidence of resistance or even backlash effects (more negative attitudes) among some boys who were exposed to the one-time dating violence prevention programs they evaluated. The current research will permit us to test whether, as Jaffe and his colleagues speculated, this pattern is characteristic of boys who are already engaged in violence against their dating partners. It will also be possible to see if backlash is a stable phenomenon, or disappears with a program that begins much earlier and goes on for a longer period of time.


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