violence prevention programs
It is clear that there is a need to develop and implement violence prevention programs for preadolescents and adolescents to reduce sexual victimization and interpersonal violence. These programs are likely to be most effective if they engage males to a greater degree as it is likely that many young men view these programs as not personally relevant as they do not see themselves as ever perpetrating or being the victim of violence. As one example of what this type of program could look like, the Fourth R program, designed to be implemented in health education classes, includes an emphasis on teaching healthy relationship skills (as opposed to focusing specifically on relationship violence) primarily through role-play instruction and targets ninth grade students (Crooks, Scott, Ellis, & Wolfe, 2011).
As another example, the Men as Allies intervention program focuses on changing perceived and actual social norms related to sexual violence as well as enlisting men as allies in preventing sexual violence and supporting victims (Hillenbrand-Gunn, Heppner, Mauch, & Park, 2010). Finally, bystander intervention programs targeting men, which in part focus on changing supportive attitudes toward violent behaviors, have been implemented at the high school level (Katz, Heisterkamp, & Fleming, 2011).
In addition to more general prevention programs focused on engaging all individuals to change attitudes and behaviors that are supportive of violence, there is also a need for more targeted interventions for individuals who are perpetrators and/or victims of interpersonal violence. Most importantly, ways to more effectively reach students who have been personally affected by violence need to be developed. For example, many students are likely unwilling to seek out traditional psychotherapy or counseling services or utilize the services of a victim advocate. However, these students may be willing to engage in interventions via electronic media such as web-based education programs or online counseling, which offer more anonymity and may not require that an individual identify as a victim. As another example, it seems likely that experiencing violence often has a negative impact on students’ academic performance, and thus integrating screening and services focused on personal safety and recovery from violence may be an important component of academic remediation plans. Similarly, students who have a history of alcohol or drug offenses may be in need of more comprehensive services focused on violence recovery as well as interventions focused on healthy decision making and reducing hazardous substance use. Finally, any intervention programming focused on students’ risky behaviors needs to be comprehensive and focus on the fact that many of these risk behaviors co-occur and influence each other, rather than targeting a single risk behavior in isolation (e.g., alcohol use).
With regard to policy on college campuses, first and foremost, all colleges need to have specific policies related to dating violence and sexual assault. It is also imperative that individuals who report victimization experiences are not then punished for doing so (e.g., a student being held in violation of a campus alcohol policy when she reports being sexually assaulted following drinking). In addition, there appears to be a shift in many campuses away from a solely punishment-based model for students who commit certain violations (e.g., students who are caught using marijuana). Programs focused on remediation may be more helpful to students and lead to better outcomes than solely punishment-based programs.
These programs are also likely to be most effective if they address the multiple risk factors and challenges that students who violate these policies often face. Finally, campuses should strive, as much as possible through policy, to focus on fostering a climate where positive and respectful interactions are encouraged and supported and where there is a proactive and preventive approach taken to the problem of interpersonal violence. This includes routinely presenting campus programming focused on interpersonal violence, routinely assessing the prevalence of violence on campus via anonymous student surveys, offering training programs for faculty and staff so they are equipped to assist students who have experienced violence, including empowerment-based programs for survivors of violence, and implementing prevention programs that engage all students.
With regard to research, there is a pressing need for more research with men who engage in sexually coercive and sexually aggressive behavior. This includes identifying different profiles of men who engage in these behaviors and evaluating whether men who engage in these behaviors desist, persist, or escalate in their sexually coercive and aggressive behavior over time. Such work is important to fully understand the risk factors for engaging in specific patterns of sexually coercive/aggressive behaviors. This will likely lead to the development of more effective preventive and intervention programs for men at risk of engaging in these behaviors as well as lead to better violence reduction programs. Relatedly, more research on typologies of physically aggressive relationships among college students is also needed, including work identifying patterns of physically aggressive behavior among students, risk factors for engaging in these behaviors, and the course of these relationships over time (e.g., whether the behaviors persist, desist, or escalate; whether the relationship ends). Similarly, more research on the impact of these relationships on students is necessary including the extent to which being in a relationship where physical aggression occurs affects individuals’ expectations for violence in future relationships, likelihood of entering another violent relationship, psychological adjustment, and risk behaviors. Finally, there is a need for more work focused on the relationships among health risk behaviors and experiences of violence as the victim or perpetrator (or both).
To conclude, to truly make progress on the problem of interpersonal violence on college campuses, a concerted effort involving all people, men, women, administrators, professors, students, and parents, is necessary. In addition, researchers, policy makers, and clinicians working in this area need to take every opportunity to impress upon campus administration that this is a problem that is affecting the whole campus, and that programs focused on violence prevention and intervention are worthwhile investments. It is also clear that changes at the broader societal level are in order and will likely have a positive impact on violence on college campuses. At the same time, colleges can serve as models for social change, and successful efforts at alleviating this problem can flow out to the broader community.
There are multiple patterns of sexually coercive and assaultive behavior among men, with some men desisting in these behaviors over time and others engaging in persisting or escalating behavior.
Multiple social and cultural factors contribute to college men’s sexually coercive and aggressive behavior including a cultural emphasis on sexual prowess among men and sexual chastity among women, frequenting social contexts where heavy drinking and casual sex frequently occur, and associating with peers who normalize coercive behaviors to obtain sex.
There are multiple risk factors associated with persisting in sexually coercive and aggressive behaviors including having a history of childhood abuse, having a history of engaging in delinquent behavior, having narcissistic and aggressive personality traits, and holding hostile attitudes toward women and positive attitudes toward casual sex.
There are few differences in the risk factors for engaging in sexually coercive or assaultive behavior following alcohol use or when sober, with the exception that men who engage in these behaviors following alcohol use are heavier drinkers.
Physical violence in college dating relationship is fairly common, is often mutual, and overall occurs at low levels of frequency.
There are multiple patterns of physically aggressive behavior in college students’ dating relationships with a minority of relationships involving severe and/or escalating violent behavior.
There are likely different risk factors and motivations for physically violent behavior among male and female students with men’s violence more likely to be motivated by jealousy or concerns about relationship termination, and women’s violence more likely to be motivated by a desire to stop emotional abuse or retaliate for being emotionally hurt.
Individuals in relationships where dating violence has occurred are more likely than students not in violent relationships to engage in other health risk behaviors including heavy alcohol use, substance use, and casual sex.
Implications for Practice, Policy, and Research.
Violence prevention programs should be implemented beginning in preadolescence or early adolescence.
Violence prevention programs should focus on engaging male as well as female students.
Targeted intervention programs are necessary for individuals who have perpetrated and/or been the victim of interpersonal violence.
Violence prevention and intervention programming should be integrated into multiple campus programs including those targeting students with academic difficulties or who have violated university policy (e.g., regarding substance use).
College administration should use multiple strategies to foster a climate where a proactive and preventive approach to interpersonal violence is taken including routinely offering campus programming on interpersonal violence, educating faculty and staff about interpersonal violence, and developing empowerment-based programs for survivors of violence.
Research should focus on identifying factors associated with different trajectories of violent behavior over time (i.e., desisting, persisting, or escalating).
Research should evaluate the impact of being in a violent relationship on college students including its impact on expectancies for violence in future relationships, likelihood of entering another violent relationship, psychological adjustment, and health risk behaviors.
Research should evaluate the interrelationships among experiences of interpersonal violence as the victim and/or perpetrator and health risk behaviors from a longitudinal perspective.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
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References for Future Reading
Kaukinen C., Gover A. R., Hartman J. L. (2012). College women’s experiences of dating violence in casual and exclusive relationships. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 37, 146–162.Crossref.