By Keith Hautala
Special to KyForward
The University of Kentucky’s “Green Dot” violence prevention program is effective in reducing sexual violence, according to preliminary findings from a five-year study evaluating the program in Kentucky high schools.
The study, led by Ann Coker at UK’s Center for Research on Violence Against Women, found a greater than 50 percent reduction in the self-reported frequency of sexual violence perpetration by students at schools that received the Green Dot training, compared to a slight increase at schools that did not.
The study also found a 40 percent reduction in self-reported frequency of total violence perpetration — including sexual violence, sexual harassment, stalking and dating violence — at the Green Dot schools, compared to a small reduction at the non-Green Dot schools.
Sexual violence continues to be a serious problem for Kentucky teens. One in seven high school students in Kentucky experience physical dating violence, and one in 11 have had unwanted sex because they were physically forced, or too intoxicated to give consent.
Coker announced the findings at a news conference at the Kentucky State Capitol. Among those present were Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear, UK President Eli Capilouto, and Eileen Recktenwald, director of the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs (KASAP), which partnered with UK and CRVAW researchers to coordinate interventions into schools statewide.
In her remarks, Coker identified violence prevention as a public health priority.
“We know that violence significantly affects high school students’ lives by causing physical injuries, missed school days, and increased need to both medical and mental health services,” Coker said. “This is true for both young women and men. Finding strong evidence for this program’s ability to reduce violence is very important and could result in dramatic reductions in health care costs.”
Beshear discussed violence against women as an issue of particular importance for Kentucky, and one to which she feels a strong personal commitment.
“Current rates of sexual violence among young Kentuckians are unacceptable,” she said. “Teenagers already face enough struggles without having to cope with trauma of physical abuse. The Green Dot study proves that sexual violence education is the key to successfully preventing abuse and plays an important role in reducing the state’s overall rates of violence.”
Recktenwald said the study marks a watershed moment in Kentucky’s fight against sexual violence.
“In the 40 years since the anti-rape movement began in Kentucky, the rates of sexual violence have steadily risen; they have never reduced,” Recktenwald said. “The idea that, due to the effectiveness of Green Dot, we can change that, that there will be many fewer young people suffering the pain and devastation of sexual violence: This is priceless.”
Green Dot, designed by former UK faculty member Dorothy Edwards, has been in use at the university since 2008. It teaches students how to identify situations that could lead to an act of violence (represented on incident maps by a red dot) and shows them how to intervene safely and effectively. A “green dot” represents “any behavior‚ choice‚ word‚ or attitude that promotes safety for all our citizens and communicates utter intolerance for violence.”
In 2009, rape crisis center staff and CRVAW researchers recruited 26 high schools across Kentucky to participate in a randomized statewide intervention trial, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Half of the schools were assigned to receive the Green Dot intervention, with the others serving as the study’s control group. Green Dot interventions were conducted by trained rape crisis staff educators from KASAP-affiliated regional centers.