Interventions to prevent sexual assault in teens

Physical and sexual violence while on a date can have long-term traumatic effects for teens and adolescents. A metanalysis examines whether prevention programs are effective at reducing the incidence of violence.

Dating is one of the major social experiences of adolescence. Teenaged dating experiences often create the expectations that adolescents will carry to romantic relationships for the remainder of their lives.

Although many teenagers will not experience physical or sexual dating violence, sadly, some will. A recent metanalysis examined whether the implementation of programs targeting dating violence led to noticeable reductions of either form of violence.1

The investigators searched PsycINFO/Eric/PsycArticles, PubMed, and Web of Science databases for papers published through April 2021 that had search terms including adolescents, dating violence, and randomized clinical trials. A study had to have a randomized design, examine an intervention, and provide at least 1 measure of physical or sexual dating violence. Interventions studied included group discussions, parent/child activities, classroom activities, and personal interviews.

A total of 18 studies were used in the analysis, which included 22,781 teenagers. Across all studies, they found that interventions were linked to reduction for both physical and sexual dating violence (odds ratio [OR], 0.78; 95% CI, 0.69-0.89; P < .001). Further analysis found that the link was significant for both survivorship (OR, 0.78; 95% CI, 0.64-0.95; P = .01) as well as physical violence perpetration (OR, 0.74; 95% CI, 0.59-0.92; P = .01).

However, the link between interventions and a lessening of sexual violence was not statistically significant. When looking at subgroups, investigators found that studies that targeted older teenagers aged >15 years or those considered at-risk, as well as trials that included parents in the intervention had significantly larger effect sizes.

There were noted limitations. Sexual violence data were only from a small number of the studies, which could make the effect sizes found uncertain. Additionally, a number of the included studies compared the intervention to either waiting list or no intervention and the investigators stated that nonexperiemental factors could have influenced participants.

Other forms of dating violence were not included, such as psychological violence, which may have had different reactions to interventions.

The investigators concluded that interventions to prevent dating violence among teenagers appears to lead to a reduction in physical violence. Whether the interventions work on sexual violence is less well known and investigators urged for further research into that area. Trials that examine the intervention in vulnerable populations, such as sexual minority teenagers, should also be performed.

Reference

1. Piolanti A, Foran HM. Efficacy of interventions to prevent physical and sexual dating violence among adolescents. JAMA Pediatrics

This article was originally published on Contemporary Pediatrics®.