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Preventing sexual violence by addressing boys

September 12, 2017

(0) Comments.  |   Tags: Jane Powers,   Janis Whitlock,   Mary Maley,   sexual health,   youth,  
Jane Powers, Mary Maley, Amanda Purington, and Janis Whitlock

Jane Powers, Mary Maley, Amanda Purington, and Janis Whitlock

By Sheri Hall for the BCTR

BCTR researchers are working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to evaluate a program for adolescent boys that aims to prevent them from becoming future perpetrators of sexual violence. Center researchers, coming together from across existing BCTR projects, will work together on the new Sexual Violence Prevention Project.

The partnership comes through the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH), which was awarded a $1.8 million from the CDC over four years to investigate programs the prevent sexual assault. State public health officials are collaborating with the BCTR to conduct the research.

The team of BCTR researchers is collecting data from 12 sites in western New York who are offering the program over the next two years. In addition, the team is collecting data from 12 control sites, which are offering different types of youth programming for boys.

“We plan to enroll over 700 boys in the study, and our first groups launched this summer,” said Mary Maley, a BCTR extension associate for research synthesis and translation. “Participants complete questionnaires right before and after the program, and again three and six months later. We’re hoping to find that the boys in the intervention groups show improved attitudes and behaviors compared to the boys in the control groups. We’re very excited to be at the implementation phase of the project.”

Last month, the team visited the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta to meet with CDC officials and other researchers across the country working on this issue for what they called a “reverse site visit.”

“This provided our team with a great opportunity to meet with a  number of CDC scientific officers and other researchers who are building the evidence base for effective sexual assault prevention programs,” said Jane Powers, senior extension associate and co-investigator. “We broadened our knowledge of the issues, learned about valuable CDC resources to support our work and expanded our network by meeting new colleagues and building partnerships.”

The program, Brothers as Allies, is based on the Council for Boys and Young Men developed by the One Circle Foundation. It enrolls boys ages 12 to 14 in small groups of 8 to 10 participants, which meet once a week with a male role model to focus on activities and discussions that define that it means to be a “real man.”  Boys in the program will learn how to step in when they observe bullying and work on developing empathy, communication, and relationship skills.

“The idea behind the program is entirely strength-based,” said Janis Whitlock, co-principal investigator and lead of the research team. “Boys are helped to build strong relationships with each other and with a positive adult role model as a means of understanding what positive relationships look and feel like. The male facilitators can then use these group bonds to encourage exploration and discussion of areas related to difficult topics, such as sexual violence.”

Many of the risk factors for sexual violence, such as hypermasculinity and endorsement of aggression, are based on attitudes and start to develop at this age through interactions with other boys and men, Whitlock said.

“This is a perfect time to be giving them a variety of models to choose from, because boys in particular face fairly narrow models of what it means to be a man,” she said.

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