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Engaging Boys and Young Men in the Prevention of Sexual Violence: A systematic and global review of evaluated interventions

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Executive Summary

Violence against women is a widespread issue, one that exists in all cultural and socio-economic contexts. Among the various forms of violence that girls and women suffer, rape is often the least visible and least reported. In many cases, such as in dating or married relationships, rape or other forms of sexual violence may not even be recognized by social or legal norms. While the underlying causes of sexual violence are multiple and complex, among the core causes are unequal gender norms and power dynamics between men and women. Throughout the world, boys and men are largely the perpetrators of sexual violence, and girls and women are the victims. It is increasingly understood that men’s use of violence is generally a learned behavior, rooted in the ways that boys and men are socialized.

There is evidence that this is often at an earlier age than many of the current violence prevention and sexuality education programs target. Adolescence is a time when many boys and young men first explore and experiment with their beliefs about roles in intimate relationships, about dating dynamics and male-female interactions. Research has shown that this is also the time when intimate partner violence first starts to manifest itself, and the earlier and more often it occurs, the more it reinforces the idea that violence is a “normal” part of dating relationships (Laner 1990). A key challenge, therefore, in primary rape prevention is to intervene before the first perpetration of rape or sexual violence, and to reach boys and young men when their attitudes and beliefs about gender stereotypes and sexuality are developing.

In this context, it is necessary to reach boys and young men (and girls and young women) with programs that address sexual violence before expectations, attitudes and behaviors about dating are well developed (Fay and Medway 2006). It is also necessary to challenge gender norms and sexual scripts that often underlie coercion and violence in relationships, including “those cultural norms that normalize intimate sexual violence as a ‘natural’ or ‘exaggerated’ expression of innate male sexuality” (Carmody and Carrington 2000). In addition, it is necessary to teach adolescents effective communication and problem-solving skills and to promote a culture of responsibility for preventing sexual violence (Berkowitz 2004).

In recent years, there has been a significant increase in attention to programming with boys and men and the evidence base regarding what works and what does not work. Violence prevention is still an area in which there are many questions and there is a need for consolidating evidence for advocacy and practice purposes. While there are already many existing reviews of rape prevention programs with male university students and dating violence prevention programs with adolescents, these reviews have largely been limited to North American or Australian context and most often focused only on those programs published in the academic literature – not grey literature. This review is more extensive, in terms of age range (adolescents) and settings (global), and in terms of program goals and scope because it includes those programs that do not have rape prevention as primary focus, but which address underlying risk factors.