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Boys who witnessed and/or experienced violence at home

Last edited: October 30, 2010

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Why is it important to work with boys and girls who witnessed or experienced violence?

  • Boys who have witnessed or experienced violence are more likely to grow up holding violence-supportive attitudes and can be up to 2 to 3 times more likely in perpetrating violence themselves (International Center for Research on Women and Instituto Promundo, 2011; ICDDR, UNFPA, Partners 4 Prevention and Change Project, 2011; Johnson et. al, 2008).
  • For women, there is some evidence linking experiences of sexual abuse in childhood or adolescence with patterns of victimization during adulthood (Krug et al., 2002).

Promising interventions with boys and girls who witnessed or experienced violence

Youth Relationships Project/Fourth R (Ministry of Education, Ontario,Canada)

The Youth Relationships Project is a community-based programme developed to help youth at high risk for committing dating (or later domestic) violence to understand how the abuse of power can lead to relationship violence and to use this understanding to improve their relationships. The project, established in 1993, serves youth aged 14-17 years of age who have experienced violence in their own families.

The Youth Relationships Project uses an 18-session curriculum and manual that provides information, skills-building exercises and community activities that teach positive behaviours for dating and interpersonal interaction. The sessions cover power and violence in relationships, date rape, sexism, the media and sexism, and also practical advice on how to confront sexism and violence against women. As a part of the programme, teens learn new communication and conflict resolution skills and practice those skills by going out into the community to solve a hypothetical problem situation. The manual includes exercises, handout reproductions, forms, and group building techniques.

A study of the intervention has been conducted with 158 14-16 year-olds with histories of child maltreatment who were randomly assigned to a preventive intervention group or a no-treatment control group. They completed measures of abuse and victimization with dating partners, emotional distress, and healthy relationship skills at bimonthly intervals when dating someone. Intervention consisted of education about healthy and abusive relationships, conflict resolution and communication skills, and social action activities. Growth curve analyses showed that the intervention was effective in reducing incidents of physical and emotional abuse and symptoms of emotional distress over time (Wolfe et al., 2003). Curricula can be school or community based.

The Youth Relationships Project was expanded and updated a few years ago to fit with the standard Health curriculum in Grade nine ( Ontario and most Canadian provinces) and is now called The Fourth R. The webpage for this initiative outlines a range of curricula addressed to different school grades / ages. All of these are available in English for purchase.

See the Fourth R Case Study.


Eighteen and Under (United Kingdom ) works with young people to identify their needs and provide them with the means to empower themselves and survive personal traumatic experiences. It provides:

A dedicated telephone helpline

Face to face support for girls and boys, aged eighteen and under, who have faced physical, sexual or emotional abuse

Training for other agencies in dealing with disclosures of abuse and violence from younger people

To learn more about the initiative, see the website.


Tools for working with boys and girls who witnessed and/or experienced violence

Youth relationships manual: A group approach with adolescents for the prevention of woman abuse and the promotion of healthy relationships. (Sage Publications authored by Wolfe, D.A., Wekerle, C., Gough, R., et al.)  This manual provides knowledge-raising and skill-building for social action to end violence through 18 sessions. The book is in English and can be previewed from Google books or can be purchased online from any book retailer.

Fourth R Curricula (Ministry of Education Ontario, Canada). The Fourth R consists of a comprehensive school-based programme designed to include students, teachers, parents, and the community in reducing violence and risk behaviours. It contends that relationship knowledge and skills can and should be taught in the same way as reading, writing, and arithmetic, and therefore the classroom-based curriculum is referred to as the Fourth R (for Relationships) core programme. This curriculum consists of lessons that meet the Ontario Ministry of Education’s learning expectations for Grade eight and nine health education and Grade 9-12 English, and the outcomes for other courses in other provinces. The programme is taught in the classroom, using a thematic approach to reduce risk behaviours including: violence/bullying; unsafe sexual behaviour and substance use..All of the curricula are available for purchase in English.