Male high school athletes' ability to recognize and intervene to stop dating violence -- the physical, sexual and emotional aggression prevalent in adolescent romantic relationships -- is improved with the intervention of some of the most important role models in young men's lives: their coaches.
A new study conducted in Sacramento, Calif., led by UC Davis researchers has found that a structured program delivered by coaches, called "Coaching Boys into Men," is effective for discouraging adolescent dating violence. The research is published online today in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
"The high school male athletes whose coaches delivered this easy-to-implement program reported more positive bystander behaviors, meaning that these boys were more likely to say or do something to stop disrespectful and harmful behaviors towards girls which they witnessed among their male peers," said Elizabeth Miller, a member of the faculty of the UC Davis School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics.
"Previous violence-prevention efforts have not generally included coaches as partners, yet coaches can be such important role models for their athletes," said Miller, who is now chief of the division of adolescent medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. "With the right training and support, coaches can encourage their athletes to be positive leaders in their community and to be part of the solution."
In the United States, one in three adolescent girls experiences physical, emotional or verbal abuse by a dating partner. Promoting non-violent attitudes among teen boys toward girls is recognized as a critical step to reduce the incidence of violence in these relationships.
"Coaching Boys into Men" (CBIM) is a high school athletics-based program that seeks to reduce dating violence by engaging athletic coaches as positive role models to deliver violence-prevention messages to young male athletes. It is a national program created by Futures Without Violence, formerly the Family Violence Prevention Fund, in 2000. For the program, the coaches are trained in the use of the "Coaches Kit," a series of training cards that offers strategies for opening conversations about dating violence and appropriate attitudes toward women with young athletes.
The study was conducted among over 2,000 young male athletes in 16 high schools in four urban school districts in Sacramento County, Calif., between winter 2009 and fall 2010. Eight of the schools were randomly selected to receive the program, while the other eight schools served as comparisons. Of the coaches approached, 87 percent agreed to participate in the study. The ninth- through twelfth-grade student athletes who agreed to participate were administered a 15-minute baseline survey at the beginning of their sports season, which assessed their attitudes about dating violence and behaviors toward adolescent girls. A similar survey was administered at the end of the sports season (the study included fall, winter and spring sports).
For example, questions sought to assess teens' perceptions of abusive behaviors such as "telling girls which friends they can or cannot see or talk to" and "telling them they're ugly or stupid." Responses were assessed using a five-point scale that ranked answers from "not abusive" to "extremely abusive." Additional survey items assessed the athletes' level of agreement with statements such as "If a girl is raped it is often because she did not say no clearly enough;" or "A boy/man will lose respect if he talks about his problems." Youth were also asked about how likely they would be to intervene when witnessing various abusive behaviors, such as hearing a peer make derogatory comments about a girl's appearance.
WEAVE: Working to end domestic violence in Sacramento County
Implementation of the Family Violence Prevention Fund's Coaching Boys into Men curriculum in Sacramento County high schools was conducted by WEAVE (Women Escaping a Violent Environment), according to Michael Minnick, the organization's Youth Violence Prevention Coordinator. This included recruitment, training and support of coaches and athletic directors in sixteen area high schools.
"We have some coaches and athletic directors who really have taken this on as their cause," Minnick said. "In particular, Mesa Verde High School Athletic Director Ron Barney has been a great advocate for this program and has been very pleased with the effect that it has had on his athletes."
"Coaching Boys into Men utilizes the mentoring relationship between coaches and their athletes as a venue for ongoing messages of respect," Minnick said. "I think we'll really see the impact of this program 10 years from now, when these young men are in healthy emotional relationships with their partners."
Minnick explained that in addition to reaching out to coaches and athletic directors and supporting their efforts, WEAVE's impact reaches far beyond the CBIM program. "WEAVE's teen educator provides educational presentations regarding teen dating violence and sexual assault to local middle and high schools. Our prevention efforts also focus on raising the awareness of adults through community outreach. Our work is also still rooted in ensuring services for victims."
"We provide safe and confidential shelter, walk-in Triage services, therapeutic counseling, a 24-hour Support & Information Line, and a 24-hour Sexual Assault Response Team," Minnick said. "WEAVE continues to be the provider of comprehensive services for our community."
WEAVE is the primary provider of crisis intervention services for survivors of domestic violence and sole provider of crisis intervention services for victims of sexual assault in Sacramento County. WEAVE's mission is to bring an end to domestic violence and sexual assault in partnership with our community.
The surveys also asked whether the athletes had witnessed any abusive behavior and actually intervened. The young men who had ever dated were asked whether they themselves had participated in any of 10 abusive behaviors including physical, sexual and emotional abuse toward a female partner in the past three months. Eighteen percent of the male athletes who had ever dated reported perpetrating any abusive behavior toward a female partner in the past three months, with verbal and emotional abuse being most common.
The study found that the young males who were exposed to the Coaching Boys into Men program said that they were more likely to intervene when observing abusive behavior toward a peer when compared with the control group of teens, while the likelihood that control athletes would intervene diminished overall during the course of the sports season. And the youth who were exposed to Coaching Boys into Men were significantly more likely to report actually doing something to stop disrespectful and harmful behaviors among their male peers when compared with controls.
"There are too few dating violence prevention programs that have demonstrated effectiveness using a rigorous research design. This study offers important evidence on the violence-reducing potential of a practical program that can be integrated into school and community-based dating violence prevention efforts," said Daniel Tancredi, assistant professor in pediatrics at UC Davis and co-investigator for the study.
"This study reminds us that in order to prevent violence before it happens, we need to take advantage of the positive influence that coaches have in shaping young athletes' attitudes towards women and girls." said Esta Soler, president of Futures Without Violence. "We hope these findings will spotlight the importance of dating violence and sexual assault prevention and encourage other schools to implement similar programs."
The Coaching Boys into Men program is available for free download through Futures Without Violence (www.coachescorner.org). In Sacramento, WEAVE (a partner in this research study) is continuing to provide training and support to coaches in area high schools. The study was funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The study's other authors are Nicholas Stetkevich of the UC Davis School of Medicine; Heather L. McCauley, Maria Catrina D. Virata, and Heather A. Anderson of the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh/University of Pittsburgh Medical Center; Michele R. Decker of the Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Ernest W. Brown of Women Escaping a Violent Environment (WEAVE) Sacramento, Calif.; Michael Minnick Feroz Moideen of Futures Without Violence; and Jay G. Silverman of the University of California, San Diego.