Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Preventing domestic abuse in adolescence (2 December 2015)

Nicky Stanley

I think a good thing would be to add, like for an hour in high school, stuff like this to the curriculum,… if you did this with the whole year about healthy relationships, then the punishments for domestic violence and stuff, at least like an hour a week or even in assemblies and… maybe people who hadn't heard it was wrong would know it was wrong, and girls would be able to recognize it. (Lily, 15, UK, Hellevik et al. 2015)

Prevention is an essential ingredient of any comprehensive domestic abuse strategy: the problem is too widespread and too embedded to be tackled through treatment alone. National and international protocols and guidance emphasizes the importance of preventing domestic abuse through programmes delivered to young people in school. Adolescence is when young people are embarking on their own intimate relationships and preventive programmes can both prepare them to avoid abusive behaviour in their own relationships and enable them to seek support if they are experiencing domestic abuse at home.

There is now a body of evidence available that can inform the work of those who design or deliver such programmes. Most good quality evaluations show that preventive interventions can shift attitudes and knowledge (Stanley et al. 2015a). However, there is some robust evidence that these programmes can also achieve behavioural change, specifically in relation to boys’ use of physical violence in intimate relationships (Wolfe et al. 2009). Increasingly, interventions are being targeted at boys rather than aiming to equip girls to avoid abusive relationships. Bystander approaches which aim to empower young people to challenge abusive behaviour and language when they encounter it (Katz et al. 2011) are increasingly influential.

Many of the programmes for which there is strong evidence of effectiveness originate in North America, but there are risks in transporting programmes across cultures. Levels of gender equality, understandings of domestic abuse and language and concepts differ across cultures and interventions need either to be homegrown or adapted to ensure a cultural fit.

The use of drama or narrative which contribute to authenticity and ‘make it real’ for young people has been identified as a key feature of programmes that have an impact (Stanley et al. 2015b). It is important that those delivering these programmes in schools are competent and confident and teachers need specialist training if they are to take this work on.

School-based programmes should build close links with relevant support services or ensure that they have in-house capacity to respond to any disclosures of domestic abuse. Such services can enable those young people who are currently experiencing domestic abuse, either in their own or their parents’ relationships, to be identified and offered early help.

Interventions aiming to prevent domestic abuse in adolescence need to take account of power differences, particularly in relation to gender and sexuality. Currently, there is a lack of appropriate materials for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender young people.

Finally, preventive domestic abuse programmes need to be reinforced by the wider policy and social context. Making these programmes a required part of the curriculum delivers a strong message from the government that contributes to shifting social norms. This is not yet the case in England, although it is elsewhere in the UK. Media campaigns offer a means of opening up conversations and creating wider dialogues that can shift levels of awareness and challenge the attitudes that sustain interpersonal abuse. If these programmes are to make a real impact, the message that domestic abuse is unacceptable needs to be supported at all levels, from government policy down to the local culture of the school.


Hellevik, PM, Överlien, C., Barter, C., Wood, M., Aghtaie, N., Larkins, C. and Stanley, N. (2015) Traversing the Generational Gap: Young People’s Views on Intervention and Prevention of Teenage Intimate Partner Violence. In Stanley, N. and Humphreys, C. (eds) Domestic Violence and Protecting Children: New Thinking and Approaches. London: Jessica Kingsley.

Katz, J., Heisterkamp, H. A., & Fleming, W. M. (2011). The social justice roots of the mentors in violence prevention model and its application in a high school setting. Violence Against Women, 17, 684–702.

Stanley, N., Ellis, J., Farrelly, N., Hollinghurst, S., Bailey, S. and Downe, S. (2015a). Preventing Domestic Abuse for Children and Young People (PEACH): A Mixed Knowledge Scoping Review. Public Health Research, 3, 7,

Stanley, N., Ellis, J., Farrelly, N., Hollinghurst, S., and Downe, S. (2015b). Preventing domestic abuse for children and young people: A review of school-based interventions. Children and Youth Services Review, 59, 120-131.

Wolfe, D. A., Crooks, C. V., Jaffe, P. G., Chiodo, D., Hughes, R., Ellis, W.,Stitt, L, Donner, A. (2009). A school-based program to prevent adolescent dating violence a cluster randomized trial. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 163,692–699.

Author Profile

Nicky Stanley is Professor of Social Work and Co-Director of the Connect Centre for Research on Interpersonal Violence and Harm at the University of Central Lancashire. She researches on domestic violence, child protection, parental mental health and young people’s mental health. She is currently working on a number of studies examining services for children and families experiencing domestic violence. She has published a research review on children experiencing domestic violence and produced books on domestic violence and child protection. She was a member of the NICE Programme Development Group producing guidance on domestic violence for health and social care in the UK.

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