Abstract: Development of an Innovative Sexual and Dating Violence Prevention Program Using Restorative Justice Methodologies with Urban Middle School Students (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Development of an Innovative Sexual and Dating Violence Prevention Program Using Restorative Justice Methodologies with Urban Middle School Students

Friday, January 14, 2022
Liberty Ballroom K, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
C. Quince Hopkins, JD, Director, Levitas Initiative for Sexual Assault Prevention, University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, Baltimore, MD
Laurie Graham, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland at Baltimore, MD
Background: Teen dating violence (TDV) and sexual violence (SV) are widespread, costly public health issues. Importantly, studies indicate that TDV and SV prevalence and burden are experienced disproportionately by Black communities, particularly in low-income urban locations with high rates of poverty and violence. However, overwhelmingly, available evidence-based programs aimed at preventing these forms of violence have not be designed to address the unique strengths and needs of Black youth living in urban areas with elevated rates of poverty and community violence. To help address this gap, the Levitas Initiative for Sexual Assault Prevention of the University of Maryland (UM) School of Law, in collaboration with community partners and researchers from the UM School of Social Work, developed and piloted the first TDV/SV prevention program for middle school students grounded in a restorative practices framework. Using a racial equity and trauma-informed approach, the ERIN Talk (Empathy, Respect, Integrity = No More Sexual Assault) program uses restorative dialogue circles to teach students healthy relationship and sexual assault prevention skills (primary prevention). The program also responds to incidents of peer-to-peer sexual harassment among students through restorative justice conferencing (secondary prevention). Trained law and social work students facilitate the program in schools. This presentation will provide an overview of the program development process, including lessons learned regarding development, implementation, and preliminary evaluation of this innovative program.

Methods: The ERIN Talk development team underwent a rigorous, 2-year process for creating and revising the program manual. For program development, the team drew upon the best available research on protective and risk factors for TDV/SV; empirically-based theories on TDV/SV prevention and behavior change; literature on restorative practices; dialogue with school personnel; informal student feedback; classroom observations of program delivery; and preliminary data from an ongoing qualitative study on the global use of restorative practices to address SV. The program team has gleaned numerous lessons from this process that can inform the development of trauma-informed, culturally responsive TDV/SV prevention programs for diverse youth.

Results: ERIN Talk has evolved into an 8-session, manualized program. Critical assets to program development and implementation included drawing on the best available research and theory and developing a detailed logic model to set up the program for future evaluation; having an interdisciplinary development team; and partnering with school personnel and school system-level program champions, including administrators, social workers, and classroom teachers/coaches who know the students and participate in program delivery. Challenges that arose included navigating school-based Institutional Review Board processes to ensure pilot data collection could occur; movement to online learning during the pandemic; and securing ongoing funding to support this innovative effort. Preliminary feedback and observations suggest student and school personnel satisfaction with the program.

Conclusions: TDV/SV prevention programs designed specifically for Black youth and additional communities exposed to elevated rates of community violence and poverty are needed. ERIN Talk development as well as preliminary implementation and evaluation efforts point to potential benefits of taking an interdisciplinary approach to prevention with attention to trauma, racial equity, and restorative practices frameworks.