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Relationship violence prevention lessons and activities

Programmes that aim to prevent violence in intimate relationships.  

Estimated impact on violent crime:

MODERATE

Evidence quality:

1 2 3 4 5

Cost:

1 2 3

Prevention Type

  • Primary
  • Secondary

Setting

  • Community
  • School and college

Themes

  • Education
  • Neighbourhood
  • Therapies

What is it?

This summary focuses on activities that aim to reduce violence between children and young people in intimate and partner relationships. Dating and relationship violence includes all forms of violence and abuse, including emotional, physical, and sexual violence, psychological abuse, stalking, and harassment. It differs from domestic abuse, which in the UK has a lower age limit of 16 and can include family relationships and carers.   

Many dating and relationship violence prevention programmes are delivered by trained schoolteachers during existing relationship and sex education (RSE) lessons or personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) lessons. Schools often commission external facilitators to deliver activities during school time or as an optional afterschool programme.  

Programmes differ widely and may include a single intervention or multiple interventions delivered over a period of weeks, months or in some cases up to two years. Most programmes are delivered for children aged 11 to 16.  

Activities may include:  

  • Education and awareness sessions, exploring attitudes and behaviours associated with dating and relationship violence   
  • Reading or listening to stories that include incidents of dating and relationship violence, often from the perspectives of both perpetrators and victims  
  • Role-playing and interactive theatre  
  • Reflection and discussion activities, in which participants share their thoughts, experiences, or ideas, often after watching a video, listening to a story or participating in role-playing  
  • Awareness campaigns, including posters, films, video games, leaflets and newsletters, in schools and extended to parents and carers  
  • Training to increase identification of incidents of dating violence, and to improve confidence to intervene (often called bystander intervention)  
  • Educational booklets, presentations and discussion sessions aimed at parents and carers, exploring signs of unhealthy relationships, strategies for enhancing parent-child communication and resources to access support  
  • Community support, including services aimed at encouraging victims or witnesses to report incidents, and support services such as counselling and group sessions for victims  

A ‘whole-school’ approach to dating and relationship violence prevention may include many of the above interventions, with the addition of amendments to school policies. For example, behavioural policies might attend to specific language and behaviours associated with dating and relationship violence. All school staff may be offered specific training and support, or it may be compulsory. Awareness campaigns may have materials aimed at staff, parents, carers, children, young people and the local community. Schools may increase staff presence in corridors and social areas where greater incidents of violence tend to take place.  

Is it effective?

On average, relationship violence prevention activities are likely to have a moderate impact on keeping children safe from involvement in violence.  

The research suggests that these activities can reduce all types of dating and relationship violence, including emotional, physical and sexual violence, and violence that takes place online.  

On average, dating and relationship violence prevention reduces violence by 17%.   

Why does it work?

There are three main possible explanations for why relationship violence prevention lessons and activities might protect children from involvement in violence.  

Firstly, programmes challenge unhealthy norms and perceptions, provide guidance about what is appropriate behaviour in a relationship, and dispel myths. For example, the role of clothing choices or the behaviour of a victim of sexual assault. Changing social and cultural norms can increase the likelihood of people reporting, and intervening in, incidents of dating and relationship violence.  

Secondly, programmes may seek to reduce dating and relationship violence perpetration through improving self-regulation, communication skills and conflict resolution skills.  

Thirdly, programmes may help young people to protect themselves from violence by improving early identification of warning signs that a relationship could lead to violence, increased reporting of concerns and incidents, and increasing bystander interventions. Some programmes focus on creating healthy relationship boundaries, active resistance to potential warning signs, and physical self-defence.   

How secure is the evidence?

We have high confidence in our estimate of the average impact on violent crime. 

Our confidence is high because it is based on a high-quality review of 16 studies that measure relationship violence perpetration. We did not give this topic the highest security rating because there is a lot of variation in the studies in the review. Some studies suggested that the impact was higher and others suggested it was lower. None of these studies were undertaken in England or Wales. 

Beyond the studies that inform the overall impact rating, the wider review included over 200 evaluations of dating and relationship violence prevention programmes, providing insights about how best to implement programmes.   

How can you implement it well?

Tackle perceptions that ‘violence isn’t a problem here’  

Research suggests some schools have been reluctant to support delivery of violence prevention programmes due to fear that it may negatively impact upon the reputation of the school. In addition, some school staff may believe that these types of programme are unnecessary, because of their own views or biases about dating and relationship violence. Put an engagement plan in place to proactively expose and address these perceptions, beliefs and fears and build support for programme delivery.  

Find the right facilitators  

Facilitators and teachers with good knowledge of dating and relationship violence, and confidence in the delivery of materials and sessions, achieve greater engagement with children and young people. This tends to be external facilitators or teachers that feel comfortable discussing complex issues related to relationships, sex and different forms of violence.    

Interactive sessions  

Interventions that include games, role-play and discussion are more likely to engage children and young people, particularly where they interact with both facilitators and peers. Developing good relationships between the facilitators and participants is important for enabling open discussions, questions and sharing personal views or experiences.  

Match the programme to the context  

It is important to ensure that the programme content and activities are appropriate for the children and young people participating. This means considering the level of expected background knowledge on the topics involved, and the ages, sexual identities and disabilities of participants. Programmes may also need to be adapted where there is knowledge of previous experiences of trauma amongst participants. Also, schools may find it easier to implement single interventions, or easily adaptable programmes. For example, programmes that offer adaptations for last minute changes to the duration of sessions or the numbers or genders of staff required.   

Have a dedicated behavioural policy in place for the programme 

Many evaluations report issues of disruptive behaviour, and sometimes sexist and prejudiced responses from participants on programmes. These programmes require teachers and facilitators to be able to adapt in the moment, using opportunities to educate. Provide clear guidance to equip facilitators to maximise learning opportunities whilst managing behaviour and protecting programme participants.   

Time, equipment and space 

For interventions delivered in schools, lack of staff availability or constraints on staff time often disrupt or reduce programme delivery. Engage senior leadership to protect staff time allocated to programmes or consider programmes that provide external facilitators. Availability of classrooms or large spaces may also be required for breakout discussion groups, physical activities, or role-play and interactive theatre. Having equipment that is available and working to play videos, audio stories and digital games is often an important component in sessions. 

How much does it cost?

On average, the cost of dating and relationship violence prevention programmes is likely to be low.  

This estimate is based on programmes involving a single intervention through to a programme delivering up to 12 sessions, engaging either external facilitators or providing training for teachers. Costs usually include facilitator or school staff time, travel costs, session materials and related media such as posters and leaflets. The cost per participant would likely be in the region of £250 – £500, assuming a minimum of 20 participants.  

Topic summary

  • Relationship violence prevention lessons and activities aim to reduce violence between children and young people in intimate relationships. 
  • Many programmes are delivered by trained schoolteachers or external facilitators during schooltime. They often involve interactive discussions, role-playing and videos or games.   
  • On average, relationship violence prevention lessons and activities are likely to have a moderate impact on violent crime.  
  • Young people find sessions more engaging when there is a lot of interaction, and when facilitators have good knowledge, confidence in their delivery and build good relationships with the group.  
  • Successful programmes in schools require support from school staff, and adaptable sessions to flex to changes in the time and physical space available.   

Project Respect in London and Bristol: Summary of Evaluation
View the plain English summary of an evaluation of Project Respect, delivered in four schools in London and Bristol.

Abusive teenage relationships 
The Children’s Society provide an accessible introduction for young people, explaining abusive teenage relationships and how to access help.  

Wales Violence Reduction Unit Review of What Works to Prevent Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence 
This review identifies effective practice for the prevention of violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence.  

Sex Education Forum  
The Sex Education Forum provides a summary of research relating to relationships and sex education (RSE) and the contribution of RSE to behaviour change.  

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