Curbing the Violence
Is Sooner Better?
While advocates acknowledge a lack of scientific studies of the effectiveness of dating violence prevention programs targeted at teenagers, the few published evaluations show at least some promising results. Writing in the October 2000 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, researchers from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reported that a year after participating in "Safe Dates," an adolescent dating violence prevention program, teenagers reported less psychological and physical abuse involving their dating partners. The researchers wrote that changes in dating violence norms -- that is, what might be tolerated -- gender stereotyping, and awareness of counseling and intervention services could explain the program's positive effects. They plan on following the teenagers for five years following their participation in Safe Dates.
But experts say several barriers, including a lack of funding and initial hesitance by school officials, make implementation and evaluation of such programs difficult.
"School districts and school boards are political animals and have been hesitant to take it on," says Revoy. While inroads are being made in schools, "it is another item on a full plate for teachers. There is concern for the child's well-being because [the school] may not know the proper resources or referrals."
Community support for such programs often is lacking because parents think it "just doesn't happen in our neighborhood." Other communities, Sims says, may be reluctant to get involved because they are afraid of a huge outpouring they may not be able to handle.
An additional barrier is that, to some extent, dating violence is a "socially acceptable behavior," Sims says. "It is common for a young man to slap or pull his girlfriend in the middle of a mall, and nobody does anything about it."
Lori Solomon is a freelance health writer in Atlanta who has written for the New York Times, the Health Network, Medical Tribune News Service, and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.