Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Moore Center Sex Abuse Symposium: Part Three: Adolescent Relationship Abuse/Teen Dating Violence

In case you missed the other parts for this series, please see part one, two, four, or five.
As a refresher...

So, What Is This Symposium?

The Moore Center Symposium is a "meeting of the minds" on the prevention of child sexual abuse. It  offers professionals (and advocates) an opportunity to learn more about the issue of child sexual abuse and how it can be prevented. The Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse is a subset of Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health, which is a major educational institution in Maryland that is well-known for its work in the public health sector (as its name should indicate). The Moore Center is currently being directed by Dr. Elizabeth Letourneau, who used to be the president of The Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA), and is a researcher that studies a myriad of topics within the realm of sexual abuse prevention. I am watching these admittedly dry and boring speeches to pull the essential parts out and communicate them to you. If you want to view them yourself, by all means, just be forewarned that they are dry and can be triggering to certain people. 

Beginning Introductions

The symposium starts with an introduction by Johns Hopkins' President, Ronald Daniels, regarding some of the reasons for the symposium and the keynote speaker at the symposium, Patrick McCarthy, who is the president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, an organization that focuses on improving the lives of children in a variety of ways.  Other speakers at the symposium were Dr. Elizabeth Letourneau, Dr. Bruce Taylor (an expert in criminology), and Jill Levenson (expert in sociology and social work), followed by a showing of the film Untouchable, which I have talked about on this blog before. Following the film, there is a panel discussion about the film and closing remarks by Stephen and Julia Moore, the founding donors of the Moore Center.

Copyright note: The images in this post are copyright-protected. I waited on this post to get permission directly from Dr. Taylor to use them, so please ask Dr. Taylor if you would like to use them yourself.

Bruce Taylor's Speech

The third speaker, Dr. Taylor, discusses findings from a study he did on teen dating violence (funded by three grants from the United States Department of Justice), also known by researchers as adolescent relationship abuse, which Dr. Taylor uses interchangeably throughout his speech. I will refer to it as ARA. Much of his speech is about interventions into ARA, and the practicalities around what works in teaching children about boundaries and relationships to further primary prevention of this very serious problem. 

As many speakers do, he overviews his study:
As well as what he wants to talk about:
How Serious Is ARA?

He then focuses on how serious of an issue adolescent relationship abuse (ARA) is: According to a national study, 68% of youth between ages 10-18 report being victimized by it, and 62% report perpetrating it. The health consequences for adolescent relationship abuse are very similar to those for child sexual abuse. The full overview of what he discusses about the seriousness of ARA:

He then talks about what sort of classroom interventions he used for his studies. Varying approaches have been tried, but there are barriers to these approaches such as parental and school concerns about letting outside organizations like rape crisis centers into schools. In short, schools are reluctant to let people do any kind of mental health intervention. 

Two Main Approaches

The approaches are broken into two categories, interaction-based curriculum and law/justice curriculum:
Interaction-based curriculum focuses on setting and communicating boundaries, developing friendships and relationships and the continuum of the intimacy of relationships in general, as well as identifying wanted/unwanted behaviors and bystander intervention. Law/justice curriculum focuses on laws, definitions, and facts in general around what sort of consequences that inappropriate behavior can have.

Their findings in Cleveland in attempting both approaches and a control group showed that both approaches changed attitudes, but also increased violence and no change in sexual harassment, which he explained could be because of new awareness around inappropriate behaviors. 

Expanding The Approaches

Based on these findings, they expanded their study with more interventions and specialization to schools in New York City. There were a lot of specifics for how and why they expanded their interventions, and how they specialized their interventions for New York City compared to Cleveland that the average person would ignore. Interested parties can see the video for these specifics. Of note is that interventions cannot wait until a child is 10-13 years old, it must happen earlier because by age 10, children are already facing ARA.

Also of note is that one of the expansions was a building intervention, where children drew simple maps of their school with what areas of the building were safe, unsafe, and in between. They refer to this as "hot spots mapping", and those are used to add school personnel to unsafe areas. The results of this particular intervention were very promising.

Resistance To ARA Interventions

Despite nationwide studies being done by multiple groups (besides Dr. Taylor's) showing the effectiveness of these mental health interventions, there is high resistance to interventions around teen dating violence/ARA. This resistance seems to be in place despite offering incentives, such as free but copyrighted materials. They did not have any major guesses as to why there was resistance to implementing interventions. They wondered if state/national education mandates, time restrictions, and budget cuts might be a factor in the resistance to school-based research and interventions into ARA. 

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