Addressing intimate partner violence and sexual violence among adolescents: emerging evidence of effectiveness

J Adolesc Health. 2015 Jan;56(1 Suppl):S42-50. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2014.08.012.


Intimate partner violence (IPV) and sexual violence (SV) are widespread among adolescents and place them on a lifelong trajectory of violence, either as victims or perpetrators. The aim of this review was to identify effective approaches to prevent adolescent IPV and SV and to identify critical knowledge gaps. The interventions reviewed in this article reflect the global focus on interventions addressing violence perpetrated by men against women in the context of heterosexual relationships. Interventions for girls and boys (10-19 years) were identified through electronic searches for peer-reviewed and gray literature such as reports and research briefs. Studies were excluded if they were published before 1990 or did not disaggregate participants and results by age. Programs were classified as "effective," "emerging," "ineffective," or "unclear" based on the strength of evidence, generalizability of results to developing country settings, and replication beyond the initial pilot. Programs were considered "effective" if they were evaluated with well-designed studies, which controlled for threats to validity through randomization of participants. A review of 142 articles and documents yielded 61 interventions, which aimed to prevent IPV and SV among adolescents. These were categorized as "parenting" (n = 8), "targeted interventions for children and adolescents subjected to maltreatment" (n = 3), "school based" (n = 31; including 10 interventions to prevent sexual assault among university students), "community based" (n = 16), and "economic empowerment" (n = 2). The rigor of the evaluations varies greatly. A good number have relatively weak research designs, short follow-up periods, and low or unreported retention rates. Overall, there is a lack of robust standardized measures for behavioral outcomes. Three promising approaches emerge. First, school-based dating violence interventions show considerable success. However, they have only been implemented in high-income countries and should be adapted and evaluated in other settings. Second, community-based interventions to form gender equitable attitudes among boys and girls have successfully prevented IPV or SV. Third, evidence suggests that parenting interventions and interventions with children and adolescents subjected to maltreatment hold promise in preventing IPV or SV by addressing child maltreatment, which is a risk factor for later perpetration or experience of IPV or SV. Results suggest that programs with longer term investments and repeated exposure to ideas delivered in different settings over time have better results than single awareness-raising or discussion sessions. However, lack of rigorous evidence limits conclusions regarding the effectiveness of adolescent IPV and SV prevention programs and indicates a need for more robust evaluation.

Keywords: Adolescents; Dating violence; Gender norms; Gender-based violence; Intimate partner violence; Rape; Sexual violence.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Health Services
  • Child
  • Community Health Services / methods
  • Crime Victims
  • Female
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Program Evaluation*
  • Rape / prevention & control
  • Reproductive Health Services
  • School Health Services
  • Sex Offenses / economics
  • Sex Offenses / prevention & control*
  • Sexual Partners / psychology
  • Spouse Abuse / economics
  • Spouse Abuse / prevention & control*
  • Young Adult