Instead of focusing just on potential victims and perpetrators, the “Bringing in the Bystander” program teaches participants how to safely intervene when they see a risk of sexual assault or dating violence. Starting in January, UNH faculty, staff and students will implement the program at 30 high schools, in most cases as part of existing health or psychology classes.
The curriculum has been reworked to be appropriate for younger students, said Katie Edwards, assistant professor of psychology and women’s studies.
For example, instructors will spend more time defining what constitutes dating violence and debunking myths about sexual assault, Edwards said. The seven 50-minute sessions also include activities aimed at promoting empathy and teaching students how to think critically about what they see online and in movies and television.
In preparing for the new project, researchers conducted surveys and organized focus groups with high school students and found that more than 90 percent had witnessed some type of dating violence in the last year, such as a couple arguing or someone pushing a girlfriend or boyfriend against a locker.
“We know that these things that happen on school buses and in hallways do sometimes lead up to more severe acts,” Edwards said. “We’re really trying to engage and empower youth to step up and take action when they’re witnessing these types of aggressive instances, and doing it in a way that prioritizes their safety.”
UNH’s bystander program, the first of its kind to have been scientifically evaluated, was found to have produced positive behavior changes up to a year following the training. The expansion is being funded by a $1 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to test the effectiveness of the program with younger students.
Edwards said there is scant research directly comparing relationship violence among high school students to the experiences of college students, but, overall, individuals between the ages of 16 and 24 experience intimate partner violence at higher rates than any other age group.