What creates the changes necessary to prevent sexual violence and dating violence?  While many of our educational programs focus on increasing knowledge about rape and violence, I am skeptical that increasing knowledge alone will create change.
The theory behind education is something like this: change people’s knowledge that will shift their attitudes; which will in turn shift their beliefs; and will then have an affect on their behavior. But this does not seem to be the best way to create change.
Take healthy eating for an example. Most of use now that we should eat healthy; we have attitudes that eating healthy is good for us; we even believe that eating healthy is good for us. But do we actually eat healthily?  By trying to create change on an individual basis, we do not develop the best strategies for actual behavior change.
I think the more important influences are more community-level:  the social expectations, what is modeled behavior, what is reinforced by media messages what is considered to be socially desirable influence behavior more than knowledge,
Yet, I see a lot of research on individual risks for sexual abuse and dating violence. Where is the research on community factors?
So I was excited to read the new article published in the American Journal of Public Health, Neighborhood Predictors of Dating Violence Victimization and Perpetration in Young Adulthood: A Multilevel Study. In this paper, the authors examined neighborhood factors that are associated with dating violence. They considered “collective efficacy” – a concept capturing “community cohesiveness and residents’ willingness to intervene for the common good; “ Here is how they measured it:

collective efficacy was a summary scale of social cohesion and informal social control. The social cohesion scale was a sum of 5 items assessing community residents’ willingness to help and trust each other and to get along and whether they shared the same values and perceived the community as close-knit. Informal social control assessed the likelihood of neighbors intervening if children were skipping school, hanging out on a street corner, or spray-painting graffiti.

The findings of this study found different affects for collective efficacy on victimization and perpetration, as well as differences based on gender (see note below.) Also, the findings demonstrated differences based on the level of poverty. In conclusion, the researchers suggest that teen dating violence can be addressed with community-level comprehensive prevention efforts.
As se are developing, implementing, evaluating and researching prevention efforts, let’s use concepts such as those explored in this study to develop community-level prevention that goes beyond individual knowledge.
Note: This study indicated that females perpetuate more dating violence than males. The measure of dating violence used were items selected from the Revised Conflict Tactics Scale. While this scale is commonly used in research, there are many concerns (see the VAWnet paper about concerns about the Conflict Tactics Scale.) Recently Elizabeth Reed and colleagues wrote about problem of removing the gender from gender based violence. While these concerns are important, I also think the exploration of neighborhood factors important for understanding how to prevent dating violence.
Below is the full citation and link to the article.
Neighborhood Predictors of Dating Violence Victimization and Perpetration in Young Adulthood: A Multilevel Study
Sonia Jain, DrPH, Stephen L. Buka, ScD, S. V. Subramanian, PhD, and Beth E. Molnar, ScD, American Journal of Public Health. 2010; 100:1737–1744.
Click here for a link to the article on the journal’s web site.
Objectives. We examined whether social processes of neighborhoods, such as collective ef?cacy, during individual’s adolescent years affect the likelihood of being involved in physical dating violence during young adulthood.
Methods. Using longitudinal data on 633 urban youths aged 13 to 19 years at baseline and data from their neighborhoods (collected by the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods), we ran multilevel linear regression models separately by gender to assess the association between collective ef?cacy and physical dating violence victimization and perpetration, controlling for individual covariates, neighborhood poverty, and perceived neighborhood violence.
Results. Females were signi?cantly more likely than were males to be perpetrators of dating violence during young adulthood (38% vs 19%). Multilevel analyses revealed some variation in dating violence at the neighborhood level, partly accounted for by collective ef?cacy. Collective ef?cacy was predictive of victimization for males but not females after control for confounders; it was marginally associated with perpetration (P = .07). The effects of collective ef?cacy varied by neighborhood poverty. Finally, a signi?cant proportion (intraclass correlation = 14%–21%) of the neighborhood-level variation in male perpetration remained unexplained after modeling.
Conclusions. Community-level strategies may be useful in preventing dating violence.