National estimates indicate that anywhere from one in ten to one in five teenagers experience physical dating violence and an even greater number experience verbal or psychological abuse. Victims face a number of associated risks, including risky sexual behavior, substance abuse, unhealthy dieting, attempted suicide, and future intimate partner violence. Accordingly, interest has grown in the development of evidence-based prevention models. One such model, the Fourth R, was previously shown to reduce physical dating violence among Canadian ninth-grade students. However, the program was found to be less effective with secondary target behaviours (e.g., physical peer violence, drug and alcohol use, and condom use), prompting the evaluators to recommend a younger target audience. The proposed project would expand our knowledge through a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of the Fourth R, conducted among younger seventh-grade students in a racially diverse, urban setting (Bronx, New York). The trial would test eight distinct hypotheses, spanning impacts on physical, sexual, verbal, and psychological abuse; sexist attitudes; safe sex behaviors; substance abuse; and peer violence. Through a secondary quasi-experimental design, the study would further test peer-to-peer dissemination effects.
Approximately 40 teachers across seven public schools in the Bronx, New York would be randomly assigned either to implement the Fourth R curriculum with their seventh-grade students during the 2011-2012 academic year (Group 1) or to adhere to a standard curriculum (Group 2). A secondary quasi-experimental study would compare survey responses from all 800 experimental students to approximately 250 grade-matched students from middle schools where the curriculum was not implemented at all. Finally, a process evaluation would allow the researchers to document planning and implementation, fidelity to the program model, teacher and participant experiences, and costs associated with the Fourth R program.
The proposed study would inform school administrators, city officials, and other policymakers nationwide regarding the effectiveness of the Fourth R curriculum with an urban, middle school population.