Prevention is Possible: Middle and High School

Aug 22nd, 1970

By Pegah Maleki MCASA Program Intern

 There’s a commonly-held belief sexual violence prevention should begin with college-aged students, and that “tweens” (ages 11 – 14) and even teenagers should be protected from heavier topics, such as sex or sexual violence. The reality is that 72% of teens state they’ve begun relationships by the age of 14, with one in four saying that sexual activity is a part of their relationship.[1] Despite assumptions, tweens and teenagers are engaging in sexual behavior, and with that behavior comes the risk of abuse: 82% reported experiencing verbal abuse and/or physical abuse, while 27% stated they had been pressured into having sex/sexual contact when they didn’t want to.[2] In Maryland, 10.2% of high schoolers report having been forced to have sexual intercourse; 11.1% report experiencing physical dating violence, and 11.7% report experiencing sexual dating violence.[3] Sexual violence and abuse exist in tween and teenage relationships, and the majority of youth are unsure what to do about it, either due to holes in their health education, or lack of discussion in their person or familial life. Fortunately, there are evidence-based preventative programs for youth that focus on sexual and relationship abuse that can give youth the tools to recognize abuse and understand what to do if they or someone they know is experiencing abuse. Research indicates that beginning this discussion earlier on, rather than only addressing sexual violence at colleges and universities, can be an effective tool for violence prevention.  

Prevention for Middle School Students

The top two prevention programs indicated for middle schools currently are Safe Dates and Shifting Boundaries. Safe Dates consists of a 10-session curriculum that breaks down the concepts of dating violence, gender stereotyping, and conflict management, through education and discussion, a play, and a poster contest. The program was demonstrated to cause a reduction in physical abuse and other violent behaviors (Foshee et al, as reviewed by DeGue et al).[4] In addition, participants in the Safe Dates program were less likely to report being victims of sexual violence four years later, showing a significant long-lasting impact of the program.[5]

Shifting Boundaries has a classroom education component as well, with six sessions covering topics including sexual harassment and healthy relationships, bystander intervention, and consequences of perpetration. The second part of the program, however, is what seems the most effective: the “building-level” intervention. This intervention includes encouraging the students to create hot spot maps in the school of where violence occurs the most, and then subsequently increasing security and teachers surveillance in those areas. Evidence collected shows that the Shifting Boundaries curriculum on its own has less of an impact, whereas both programs showed a 32-47% drop in sexual violence victimization and perpetration 6 months after the program (Taylor et. al, as reviewed by DeGue et al).[6] The building-level intervention on its own showed to be the most effective, with 50% fewer incidents of victimization and perpetration of dating violence, and sexual dating violence, at a 6 month follow up.[7] Although both middle school programs incorporate set curriculums that focus on defining sexual and dating violence and intervention strategies, and both are effective in decreasing violence, the most effective form of violence prevention among youth 6th – 8th grade is hands-on engagement such as the building-level intervention in the Shifting Boundaries program. Although classroom instruction is important in opening dialogue for discussion, engaging students in implementing solutions and changes to institutional structures is impactful. Notably, the hot spot mapping is performed by the students themselves, not only encouraging critical thinking and awareness of the violence occurring, but directly giving them the ability to take a hands-on approach to solving the violence. Sexual violence prevention can and should start early—and research supports approaches that encourage students to participate actively in prevention efforts.

Prevention for High School Students One promising prevention program is Coaching Boys into Men, which is geared towards high school athletic coaches and their teen athletes. The goal of the program is to encourage young men to have nonviolent intimate partner relationships, with a focus on respect-building and open communication. The program focuses on both physical and sexual violence and is effective in its efforts to decrease violence overall. Participants in the program were found more likely to report intervening when they observed disrespectful behavior between peers and reported using less verbal and emotional abuse against female partners.[8] One year after participating in CBIM, participants showed that their “scores” of violence related to dating violence dropped, while the control groups showed an increase.[9] Coaching Boys Into Men is a tool to help students recognize problematic behavior and begin a dialogue. The program acts as a pathway to engaging young students towards deconstructing societal norms and lessening rape myth acceptance and normalized ideas of violence. However, the programs encourage mobilizing not only staff and administration but students’ families and their wider community to ensure an environment that encourages awareness, youth activism, and supports survivors. Comprehensive approaches to violence prevention should incorporate other elements, such as policy changes, social marketing campaigns, and increased access to and visibility of support resources, in addition to ongoing workshops and dialogues such as those promoted in this program.  

Additional resources for Middle School and High School students

  1. Safe Dates,
  2. The Men of Strength Club,
  3. Not In Our School,
  4. Love is Respect,
  5. Mentors in Violence Prevention,
  6. Coaching Boys into Men,


[1] “Tween and Teen Dating Violence and Abuse Study.” TRU (2008): 7 – 8.

[2] Ibid., 11.

[3] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Maryland, High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2013

[4] DeGue, Sarah et. al “A systematic review of primary prevention strategies for sexual violence perpetration." Aggression and Violent Behavior 19, iss. 4 (2014). [

5] Ibid.

[6] Taylor, Bruce, Nan. D. Stein, Dan Woods, Elizabeth Mumford. “Shifting Boundaries: Final Report on an Experimental Evaluation of a Youth Dating Violence Prevention Program in New York City Middle Schools.” (2011): 6.

[7] Ibid., 5.

[8] “Coaching Boys into Men Is Effective Tool in Preventing Teen Dating Violence, Study Finds,” Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, 2012,

[9] Miller, Elizabeth et. al, “One-Year Follow-Up of a Coach-Delivered Dating Violence Prevention Program.” American Journal of Preventative Medicine (2013): 4.

Related Articles

Stay In The Loop

Sign up for our mailing list to receive Frontline, MCASA’s quarterly eNewsletter, and stay updated on MCASA’s programs and upcoming events and training in Maryland.

Sign Up