Prevention and Intervention of Teen Dating Violence

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The ultimate goal of prevention and intervention is to stop dating violence before it begins. During the preteen and teen years, young people are learning the skills they need to form positive, healthy relationships with others. This is an ideal time to promote healthy relationships and prevent patterns of relationship violence that can last into adulthood.[1]

Studies investigating the effectiveness of programs to prevent dating violence are beginning to show positive results. Most programs focus on changing knowledge, attitudes and behaviors linked with dating violence while focusing on the skills needed to build healthy relationships.

Effective School Level Interventions

In one rigorous NIJ-funded study, school-level interventions in 30 New York City public middle schools reduced dating violence by up to 50 percent.[2]

Researchers evaluated dating violence and sexual harassment interventions by randomly assigning classes to receive:

  • Classroom-level interventions
  • School-level interventions
  • A combination of classroom- and school-level interventions
  • No intervention (i.e., the control group)

Youth exposed to domestic violence are at greater risk for being both a victim and the perpetrator of dating violence. Classroom-level interventions were delivered in six sessions, using a curriculum emphasizing the consequences for perpetrators, state laws and penalties, the construction of gender roles, and healthy relationships.

School-level interventions included the use of temporary school-based restraining orders, higher levels of faculty and security presence in "hot spots," and raising awareness schoolwide.

Researchers found that, compared with the control group who received no intervention, students who received the school-level intervention or both the school- and classroom-level interventions experienced reduced levels of dating violence and sexual harassment. The researchers noted that the classroom-level intervention alone was not effective in improving these outcomes. In addition, students in the school-level intervention were more likely to intend to intervene as bystanders if they witnessed abusive behavior between their peers.

These findings are important in several ways:

  • This is one of the first studies to document the effectiveness of such prevention programs among middle school students.
  • Given the large size of the study (with more than 2,500 students) and the ethnic diversity of these students, the program may be applicable to a broad range of populations.

The success of the school-level intervention is particularly important because it can be implemented with very few extra costs to schools.

See the curriculum evaluated in this study, Shifting Boundaries: Lessons on Relationships for Students in Middle School (pdf, 65 pages).

Family-Based Interventions for High-Risk Youth

Youth exposed to domestic violence are at increased risk to be both a victim and perpetrator of dating violence.[3]

Yet we currently have no violence intervention protocols for this vulnerable group. To help fill the gap, NIJ funded an effort to adapt the successes of an existing evidence-based program, Families for Safe Dates, so it would be applicable to teens who are exposed to domestic violence.

To adapt Families for Safe Dates for teens exposed to domestic violence, the researcher recruited 28 women (and 35 of their 12- to 15-year-old children) from four counties, either when the women were in court filing a domestic violence protection order or when the women were seeking services through public or community-based programs. To be eligible, women had to have been victims of domestic violence but no longer living with their partners and to have a child 12 to 15 years old.

The researchers adjusted the protocol recruitment strategies, data collection procedures, measures, and program administration, and eliminated the follow-up calls from the health educator. They also determined that the intervention was reaching the high-risk group: teens who had been exposed to an average of seven years of domestic violence and had high rates of dating violence compared with national averages. These teens also had high rates of exposure to bullying, sexual harassment and peer aggression, as both victims and perpetrators.

Overall, the mothers and youth reported that they enjoyed the booklets and found them helpful and informative. Given low rates of booklet completion and follow-up, however, the researchers could not decisively determine what effects the booklet had.

The pilot study was instrumental in guiding the development, refinement and implementation of a larger, ongoing efficacy trial of the intervention that is being funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Read the final technical report Dating Abuse Prevention in Teens of Moms with Domestic Violence Protection Orders (pdf, 405 pages).

Learn more about the CDC's Randomized Efficacy Trial of Moms and Teens for Safe Dates.

Group-Based Interventions for High-Risk Youth

Adolescents who are maltreated and become involved in the child welfare system are at risk for being revictimized by romantic partners.[4] To better understand how to prevent revictimization among this high-risk group, NIJ funded a study to evaluate the effectiveness of two prevention curriculums. The study focused on girls because they sometimes face more serious consequences of dating violence (e.g., injuries, pregnancy) than boys do.[5],[6]

Participants included 176 adolescent girls involved in child welfare services. The girls were assigned randomly to receive one of two curriculums:

  • A group of 67 girls received a social learning/feminist curriculum designed to help girls develop healthy relational skills, understand power dynamics and understand societal pressures that can lead to violence.
  • A group of 67 girls participated in a risk detection/executive functioning curriculum designed to improve their ability to recognize and maintain attention to environmental danger cues, recognize different emotions and know how to respond in risky relational situations.

A third group of 42 girls were enrolled in the study but did not participate in a curriculum intervention.

Overall, the girls reported positive experiences about participating in a curriculum. The study found no significant differences in revictimization rates for girls who completed the social learning/feminist curriculum compared with those who completed the risk detection/executive functioning curriculum. In addition, compared with girls who did not participate in a curriculum, the odds of not being revictimized (sexually or physically) were two to five times greater for girls who received the risk detection/executive functioning or social learning curriculum.

The study suggests that high-risk girls can successfully participate in and benefit from relational programming.

Read an abstract and access the final report Preventing Revictimization in Teen Dating Relationships.


[note 1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Understanding Teen Dating Violence".

[note 2] Taylor, Bruce, Nan D. Stein, Dan Woods, and Elizabeth Mumford. Shifting Boundaries: Final Report on an Experimental Evaluation of a Youth Dating Violence Prevention Program in New York City Middle Schools (pdf, 322 pages). Final report submitted to the National Institute of Justice, grant number 2008-MU-MU-0010, October 2011, NCJ 236175.

[note 3] Ehrensaft, Miriam K., Patricia Cohen, Jocelyn Brown, Elizabeth Smailes, Henian Chen, and Jeffrey G. Johnson. "Intergenerational Transmission of Partner Violence: A 20-Year Prospective Study," Journal of Counseling and Clinical Psychology 71 (August 2003): 741-753.

[note 4] Foshee, Vangie A., Heath Luz McNaughton Reyes, Susan T. Ennett, Jessica D. Cance, Karl E. Bauman, and J. Michael Bowling, "Assessing the Effects of Families for Safe Dates, a Family-Based Teen Dating Abuse Prevention Program," Journal of Adolescent Health 51 (March 2012): 349-356.

[note 5] Coker, Ann L., Robert E. McKeown, Maureen Sanderson, Keith E. Davis, Robert F. Valois, and E. Scott Huebner, "Severe Dating Violence and Quality of Life Among South Carolina High School Students," American Journal of Preventative Medicine 19 (November 2000): 220-227.

[note 6] Silverman, Jay G., Anita Raj, Lorelei A. Mucci, and Jeanne E. Hathaway, "Dating Violence Against Adolescent Girls and Associated Substance Use, Unhealthy Weight Control, Sexual Risk Behavior, Pregnancy, and Suicidality," Journal of the American Medical Association 286 (August 2001): 572-579.

Date Modified: February 13, 2014