Abstract: Changes in Sexual Consent Attitudes Among Middle School Students: Evaluation of the PEP Talk Program (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Changes in Sexual Consent Attitudes Among Middle School Students: Evaluation of the PEP Talk Program

Friday, January 13, 2023
North Mountain, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Carolyn O'Connor, MSW, Doctoral Student/Research Assistant, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Rachael Pascoe, MSW, RSW, PhD Student, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Shannon Brown, MA, Doctoral Student, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Audrey Rastin, Director of Prevention Education, Boost Child & Youth Advocacy Centre, Toronto, ON, Canada
Ramona Alaggia, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Background and Purpose: Early adolescence is characterized by intense relational and biological changes, including the exploration and initiation of dating. These developmentally normative milestones bring new risks, like sexual violence, and can establish long-term behavioural patterns. Prevention programs for the middle school population, however, are less prevalent and less studied than those for high school or college aged youth. The current study (funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada) evaluates the efficacy of PEP Talk, a gender-based and dating violence prevention program delivered to middle school students in Toronto, Ontario. PEP Talk contains 11 modules that focus on helping youth build skills to establish healthy relationships while preventing violence and abuse. This evaluation seeks to answer five research questions: will PEP Talk participating students: (1) have increased awareness of what constitutes dating violence? (2) have improved attitudes or behaviours regarding sexual consent? (3) report fewer incidences of gender-based violence, victimization, or perpetration? In addition, we wanted to compare levels of (4) resilience and (5) social support reported by participating students to those who did not participate.

Methods: A quasi-experimental, pre-post intervention design was used to compare scores from the intervention group with a non-participating matched control group. Participants (N=131) were students in grades seven and eight who received PEP Talk during their school term. In addition to demographics and a questionnaire on past experiences of peer victimization and perpetration (PPVP; developed by the research team), respondents completed the following standardized instruments: the Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale (CDRS), the Sexual Consent Scale-Revised (SCSR), the Acceptance of Dating Violence Scale (ADVS), and the Social Support Scale. At the end of the program, participants were asked to complete these same measures. Descriptive statistics were calculated, and paired sample t-tests were used to establish statistically significant changes in knowledge, attitudes, and behaviour resulting from the intervention.

Results: There were highly significant differences in the scores for the gender stereotyping subscale of the ADVS and two SCSR subscales: lack of perceived behavioural control and positive attitudes towards establishing consent (p<0.001). Other scales found to be significant include the CDRS and PPVP (p<0.05). The remaining scales were not found to result in significant changes. Effect sizes were calculated using Hedges’ correction, as multiple t-tests were run, and ranged from medium (d=0.48) to very large (d=1.7).

Conclusions and Implications: The results indicate that the PEP Talk program results in significant changes on some measures associated with its stated goals; specifically, gender stereotyping and attitudes towards establishing consent exhibited significant shifts. In addition, PPVP and lack of perceived behavioural control declined significantly, demonstrating that behavioural and attitudinal changes may be interrelated. The static PPVP also increased, which may point to the program enhancing awareness of what victimization and perpetration looks like; alternatively, as attrition was relatively high (41%), this finding could be interpreted as an increased likelihood of post-test completion among PPVP experienced participants. Ultimately, this study provides a compelling argument for continued research on prevention programs that include sexual consent teachings to advance adolescents’ self-efficacy and knowledge.