Colorado’s Sexual Violence Prevention Program Results in Positive Changes to Attitudes, Behaviors, and Social Norms around Sexual Violence
Intimate partner violence (IPV), which includes physical violence, sexual violence, stalking, or psychological aggression, has significant health consequences.1 Victims of IPV are at greater risk for a range of negative health outcomes, such as substance abuse, alcoholism, and suicide attempts.2 Unhealthy relationships can begin as early as adolescence. A 2011 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) national survey found that an estimated 23% of female victims of sexual violence, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner first experienced some form of IPV before age 18.3 Teen dating violence is widespread and has serious long-term and short-term effects.4 According to the 2013 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey, among students (9th to 12th grade) who dated, approximately 21% of female students and 10% of male students had experienced some form of teen dating violence in the past year. These students were more likely to have attempted suicide, been in a physical fight, carried a weapon, and been electronically bullied, and to currently use alcohol and drugs than those who had not experienced dating violence in the last 12 months.5
In its efforts to reduce the incidence of sexual violence in our communities, CDC established the Rape Prevention Education (RPE) program (via the passage of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994), which aims to strengthen sexual violence prevention efforts at the local, state, and national level. It operates in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and 6 U.S. territories. Currently, RPE provides 5-year funding (February 1, 2014–January 31, 2019) to grantees engaged in a range of activities from implementing prevention strategies that are culturally relevant and based on the best available evidence to conducting educational seminars, professional training, and leveraging resources through partnerships.6 One of the RPE grantees, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), has established a Sexual Violence Prevention Program (SVP), which provides grant funding to 9 community-based programs that work to prevent sexual violence. The primary components of the SVP are engaging communities to address root causes of sexual violence by changing unhealthy norms, policies, and practices that sanction sexual violence; collecting data and conducting program evaluations in 9 communities across the state; and collaborating with other violence prevention fields for a shared risk and protective factor approach.7
Tu Casa, one of CDPHE’s grant-funded community-based programs, supports healthy, violence-free lives and relationships for all children and adults and addresses the needs of domestic violence and sexual assault victims and their families throughout the 6 counties of the San Luis Valley.8 To support this mission, Tu Casa offers a wide variety of free, confidential, and bilingual services and programs including a 24-hour hotline, victim advocacy, and counseling services for victims of domestic and sexual violence. In addition, Tu Casa has implemented prevention programming, which includes prevention education and training activities, that addresses the environmental factors and societal norms that influence the occurrence of IPV. Tu Casa’s prevention activities include implementation of Safe Dates, providing teacher and parent trainings on ways to discuss sex and sexuality with children, and implementation of a Social Norming Project that addresses the norms that create IPV.
Safe Dates is an evidence-based, adolescent dating abuse prevention program that consists of a 10-session interactive and engaging curriculum. This program raises awareness of healthy and abusive dating relationships, and equips students with skills and resources to develop healthy dating relationships, including positive communication, anger management, and conflict resolution. The curriculum includes 10 in-school sessions with didactic learning and interactive skill-building activities, a school play, and a poster contest. A rigorous randomized trial of the Safe Dates program found that, at 4-year follow-up, students who participated in the program reported fewer perpetrations of physical violence and sexual violence and less victimization of sexual violence than those who had not participated in Safe Dates. The program was found to work for boys and girls, for those who had already experienced dating violence, and for those who had not experienced it prior to participating.9 Safe Dates is one of the most widely disseminated teen dating violence prevention programs in the United States. Currently, Tu Casa is implementing the Safe Dates curriculum in 1 middle school and 1 high school in San Luis Valley.
To determine the effectiveness of the SVP, CDPHE partnered with Colorado State University to develop a tool to measure the overall impact of the implementation efforts of grantees.10 The survey tool measured several outcomes before and after implementation of prevention programs, including the Safe Dates curriculum. These outcomes included life skills; attitudes/beliefs about gender roles; acceptance of antisocial, delinquent, and violent behavior; acceptance of jealous behaviors; healthy sexuality; and negative assertion. Between 2014 and 2015, approximately 176 students were taught the Safe Dates curriculum. Among those educated in the curriculum, 47 students completed both the pre and post-test surveys, which showed statistically significant positive change for the following outcomes: life skills; rejection of antisocial, delinquent, and violent behavior; and rejection of jealous behavior.11 Several factors are considered to have contributed to the success of Tu Casa’s application of the Safe Dates curriculum in Colorado. First, Tu Casa prevention education staff collaborated with other agencies, such as Adams State University, the Center for Restorative Programs, the Immigrant Resource Center, social services, local churches, the local Boys and Girls Club, and the Behavioral Health Center. In addition, staff established positive relationships with school principals, which has been critical to the success of the program. The efforts in Colorado through the SVP and the work of Tu Casa had a strong impact on the development and attitudes of teens across the state, and will contribute to the reduction of intimate partner violence among both teens and adults.
5 Vagi KJ, Olsen EO, Basile KC, Vivolo-Kantor AM. Teen dating violence (physical and sexual) among U.S. high school students. Findings from the 2013 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey. JAMA Pediatr. 2014. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2014.3577
9 Foshee VA, Bauman KE, Ennett ST, Linder GF, Benefield T, and Suchindran, C. Assessing the long-term effects of the Safe Dates program and a booster in preventing and reducing adolescent dating violence victimization and perpetration. American Journal of Public Health. 2004;94(4):619–624.
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