versão impressa ISSN 0185-3325
PICK, Susan; LEENEN, Iwin; GIVAUDAN, Martha e PRADO, Andrea. <<I want to I can…prevent violence>>: Raising awareness of dating violence through a brief intervention. Salud Ment [online]. 2010, vol.33, n.2, pp. 145-152. ISSN 0185-3325.
Introduction Dating violence, a recent topic in scientific investigation, has an incidence ranging from 22% to 33% among young people. These findings are supported by a previous study that showed that about one third of high school and college students have experienced physical violence from a dating partner. Similarly, National and international studies (e.g. National Survey on Family Relations Dynamics and the International Dating Violence Study) found an incidence of violence between dating partners ranging from 10% to 45% among college students worldwide. Although there is evidence that men also experience violence perpetrated by women and that violence occurs in same sex relationships, the research continues to show that violence is usually perpetrated by men against women. However, past studies have focused on the occurrence of physical violence which signals the possibility that other types of violence, such as emotional or social, have a higher incidence. Their incidence varies and the harmful physical, emotional, and social consequences that they imply point to the need of creating prevention programs targeted at youth populations. It is important to prevent violence in a first stage by raising youth's awareness of this problem and, ideally, also by achieving a change in their behaviors and attitudes as well as in the social norms that promote its occurrence. In order to address all of these components of prevention, programs have been developed that do not only inform youth about violence, but also facilitate the formation of social skills through active participation and role playing which allows individuals to practice new models of interaction that are violence free. In addition, programs have to consider that many schools lack the disposition or the resources to impart long prevention workshops. For this reason, the development of brief prevention strategies has become imperative. The program «I want to, I can… prevent violence: Raising awareness of dating violence through a brief intervention» was developed, implemented, and evaluated with the objective of raising youth's awareness and increasing their knowledge about dating violence, its precursors related to gender and cultural norms and its physical, emotional, and social consequences. Materials and method The program consisted of eight interactive conferences imparted at different public high schools in Mexico. The conferences reached a total of 2250 participants in four different urban areas in the country. The conferences consisted of a presentation and different interaction exercises with a total duration of two hours and thirty minutes. The topics covered in each conference were: life skills (assertive communication, negotiation, decision-making), differentiation of the concepts of sex, sexuality and gender and how these are related to violence, what is and how to recognize violence, types of violence, gender roles and stereotypes, how to recognize violence in a dating relationship, and how to express love in a healthy way. A questionnaire, which included the following sections, was developed to assess participants' attitudes toward violence: a) Ability to recognize violence in everyday interactions: Identifying signs of violence in the behaviors and attitudes of characters presented in eight different cases of interactions between dating partners. b) Attitudes toward violence: Rating levels of agreement with statements that promote or discourage violence. c) Causes of violence: Ten causes of violence related to social norms that encourage men's aggression and promote gender inequality are presented; participants must identify the five that are false and the five that are true. d) Healthy ways of expressing love: Recognition of behaviors and signs in a dating relationship that imply the presence or the lack of love. The impact of the conference was evaluated by applying this brief questionnaire to a random sample of participants before and after the conferences. Across all high schools, a total number of 311 questionnaires were completed by participants before the conferences and 184 were completed after the conferences. Ideally, there should have been a longer term follow-up for which no funds were available. An explanatory model within the framework of the Item Response Theory (IRT) was used to analyze collected data. Results The results showed that the conference improved the participants' ability to identify violence and its causes as well as their understanding of healthy ways of expressing love. Responses also indicated favorable attitudes toward nonviolence both before and after the conference. The findings also suggest that participants might require more time to learn how to fully recognize assertive and violent communication as well as false causes of violence and that, ideally, programs should be undertaken to change behaviors not only create awareness and thus be carried out in smaller groups. An analysis of gender differences in responses to the questionnaire shows that women where better able to recognize violence, its causes, and healthy ways of expressing love. Women also had more favorable attitudes toward nonviolence. Discussion The findings show that raising awareness about dating violence through an interactive conference is an efficient brief first stage prevention strategy because it can promote important changes in participants' attitudes through a brief intervention. Participating adolescents showed an increase in their knowledge and awareness about the subject which allowed them to improve their recognition of violence in everyday life. The increase in their ability to recognize healthy ways of expressing love also points to an understanding of romantic relationships that does not exclude autonomy, assertiveness, and honesty. These changes could facilitate the participants' ability to identify myths and misinformation related to the causes of violence. In addition, awareness-raising can initiate a process of questioning and changing social norms that promote gender inequality, jealousy, and control as acceptable forms of violence within dating relationships. Gender differences in the findings suggest that men might need more time than women to fully understand the problem of dating violence which can be attributed to traditional gender role expectations related to violence and gender relationships. This signals the need to increase prevention programs' focus on masculinity, male roles in dating relationships, and how they can express feelings without violence and without limits related to gender stereotypes. The program's achievements indicate the importance of finding strategies that allow large audiences to learn about dating violence, recognize violence in everyday social interactions and understand how to ask for help. The interactive nature of the program goes beyond giving information to a large number of people as it allows participants to practice relationship skills and promotes reflection on the subject of violence. Throughout the program's implementation, schools demonstrated a great interest in raising awareness about dating violence. It would be convenient to utilize their interest in order to further implement prevention programs. The interactive and brief nature of our program allows schools to resolve the problem of lack of time and resources that might deter their participation. Preventing intimate partner violence must begin during adolescence in order to impede the development of unhealthy patterns of interaction that may become harder to change in adulthood.
Palavras-chave : Gender violence; dating violence; prevention; social norms; brief interventions.