Safe Dates is a school-based prevention program for middle and high school students designed to stop or prevent the initiation of dating violence victimization and perpetration, including the psychological, physical, and sexual abuse that may occur between youths involved in a dating relationship. The program goals are to change adolescent norms on dating violence and gender-roles, improve conflict resolution skills for dating relationships, promote victims’ and perpetrators’ beliefs in the need for help and awareness of community resources for dating violence, encourage help-seeking by victims and perpetrators, and develop peer help-giving skills.
Safe Dates is a school-based program that can stand alone or fit within a health education, family, or general life-skills curriculum. Because dating violence is often tied to substance abuse, Safe Dates may also be used with drug and alcohol prevention and general violence prevention programs.
The Safe Dates program relies on primary and secondary prevention activities to target behavioral changes in adolescents. Primary prevention occurs when the onset of perpetration of dating violence is prevented. Secondary prevention is when victims stop being victimized or perpetrators stop being violent. Primary prevention is promoted through school activities, while secondary prevention is promoted through school and community activities.
The Safe Dates program includes a curriculum with nine 50-minute sessions, one 45-minute play to be performed by students, and a poster contest. The sessions include:
1. Defining Caring Relationships. Students are introduced to Safe Dates and discuss how they wish to be treated in dating relationships.
2. Defining Dating Abuse. Discussing scenarios and statistics, students clearly define dating abuse.
3. Why Do People Abuse? Students identify the causes and consequences of dating abuse through large- and small-group scenario discussions.
4. How to Help Friends. Students learn why it is difficult to leave abusive relationships and how to help an abused friend through a decision-making exercise and dramatic reading.
5. Helping Friends. Students use stories and role-playing to practice skills for helping abused friends or for confronting abusing friends.
6. Overcoming Gender Stereotypes. Students learn about gender stereotypes and how they affect dating relationships through a writing exercise, scenarios, and small-group discussions.
7. Equal Power Through Communication. Students learn the eight skills for effective communication and practice them in role-plays.
8. How We Feel, How We Deal. Students learn effective ways to recognize and handle anger through a diary and a discussion of “hot buttons,” so that anger does not lead to abusive behavior.
9. Preventing Sexual Assault. Students learn about sexual assault and how to prevent it through a quiz, a caucus, and a panel of peers.
Safe Dates involves family members through the use of parent letters and parent brochures, which provide information about resources for dealing with teen dating abuse. In addition, schools can get parents more involved by hosting parent education programs or by talking one-on-one with parents of youth who are victims or perpetrators of dating abuse. Teachers are encouraged to connect with community resources by locating and using community domestic violence and sexual assault information, products, and services that provide valid health information.
Foshee and colleagues (2005) examined five waves of data collected on a group of students participating in a quasi-experimental evaluation of the Safe Dates program reported earlier by Foshee and a different set of colleagues (1998) that was conducted during 1994 and 1995. The evaluation took place at 14 public schools that had eighth and ninth grades. The schools, which were in a primarily rural North Carolina county, were stratified by grade and matched on size. The schools in each pair were randomly assigned to a treatment or to a control condition.
In the original study, baseline measures were completed by 1,886 youths (80 percent of the 2,344 eligible participants). The sample for this review consisted of 1,566 adolescents who completed the baseline questionnaire and who were in either the control group or the Safe Dates program. Students in the original study who received Safe Dates plus a booster condition at 1 year were excluded from the longitudinal study. Of the 1,566 adolescents, 72 percent were white and 46.8 percent were male. Mean age at baseline was 13.9 years. There were 636 youths in the treatment group and 930 in the control group. The exclusion of the adolescents in the original Safe Dates group who received the booster created the imbalance between the treatment and control groups. Baseline equivalence of the groups was assessed, and no significant differences were found in outcome, mediating, or demographic variables between the treatment and control groups.
The Likert-scale questionnaires used in this evaluation were designed specifically for this study to measure four victimization and four perpetration variables. Psychological abuse perpetration was measured by asking: “During the last year how often have you done the following things to someone you had a date with?” Fourteen acts were listed (e.g., damaged something that belonged to the other person, insulted that person in front of him or her). Response options ranged from 0 (never) to 3 (very often). A parallel set of questions was used to assess psychological abuse victimization.
Eighteen additional questions were used to measure the following violence variables: moderate physical abuse (e.g., scratching, twisting partner’s arm); severe physical abuse (e.g., burning, choking, beating up); and sexual violence. Responses ranged from 0 (never) to 3 (10 or more times). Parallel questions were used to measure moderate physical abuse victimization, severe physical violence victimization and sexual dating violence.
Follow-up data was collected from treatment and controls at 1 month (wave 2), 1 year (wave 3), 2 years (wave 4), 3 years (wave 5), and 4 years (wave 6). The present evaluation reports up to wave 5 (3 years). There was a 50 percent rate of attrition from wave 1 to wave 5 but no group differences in attrition. Data missing because of attrition was handled using multiple imputation procedures. According to this procedure, sets of plausible values for missing observations are created on the basis of a specified missingness equation and an algorithm that preserves uncertainty about nonresponse.
The final data analysis was conducted using random coefficient regression analysis, which is a subset of the mixed model that is useful for longitudinal data.
Foshee and colleagues (2005) found significant main effects of treatment condition on psychological abuse perpetration, moderate physical violence perpetration, and sexual violence perpetration. These findings indicate that adolescents in the Safe Dates group reported perpetrating less psychological and sexual abuse at all four follow-up periods, compared with youths in the control group. The treatment group also reported perpetrating less moderate abuse than the control group. Treatment effects were the same for those who did and did not report using those forms of violence before the intervention, indicating primary and secondary prevention effects.
Treatment adolescents, who reported either no severe physical perpetration or average amounts of severe physical violence perpetration at baseline, reported significantly less severe physical violence perpetration than control subjects at the four follow-up waves. However, treatment and control adolescents who reported perpetrating severe physical violence at baseline did not differ at any of the four follow-up waves.
There was a moderate effect of treatment on physical violence victimization in the expected direction at all four follow-up waves regardless of conditions at baseline, indicating both primary and secondary prevention effects. There was a marginal effect of treatment on sexual victimization also in the expected direction.