Efforts to prevent violence in relationships between men and women have been picking up nationally ever since the 1994 Violence Against Women Act -- up for renewal this year, with the Senate passing it Thursday and the House now considering it.
Related to that federal domestic violence program is a local doctor's effort to teach young people how to have respectful relationships without violence.
A dating violence researcher at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC is seeking funding to duplicate here her earlier study in California, which showed a program for boy high school athletes was successful in reducing violence against women and girls.
This time, however, Coaching Boys into Men would be used in the middle schools, said Children's pediatrician Elizabeth Miller, who also is spreading word of the program created by Futures Without Violence in meetings with school districts and sexual assault agencies. Dr. Miller is chief of Children's Division of Adolescent Medicine.
"The reason is many of the coaches and athletes in Sacramento [Calif.] said the program should be for middle school students just as they are beginning to explore romantic relationships and just as these behaviors are starting to emerge," Dr. Miller said.
Coaching Boys into Men, developed with the input of hundreds of coaches and athletes nationally, is based on the theory that coaches serve as role models and therefore can teach players that violence against females -- be it psychological, physical or sexual -- is wrong.
It has two components, said Brian O'Connor, director of public education, campaigns and programs for the San Francisco-based Futures Without Violence.
One is a national public service announcement campaign that began in 2000.
The other, launched in 2005, said Mr. O'Brien, "is a more in-depth curriculum that recruits athletic coaches to work with young athletes through a series of mini-training sessions, one each week of the season." The sessions cover such topics as personal responsibility, insulting language and respect for women and girls.
The Coaching Boys into Men Handbook in the two-part coaches' kit provides examples of "teachable moments" of wrong behavior or attitudes that should be addressed immediately with "defensive plays." Also in the handbook are "offensive plays" designed to prevent future negative perceptions toward women and girls.
One teachable moment deals with a coach overhearing a team captain talking about his conquest of a girl. In another, a coach has to chastise his team when it begins catcalling a female athlete who walked through the gym.
An accompanying Coaching Boys into Men card series includes suggested scripts for covering the topics of the short, weekly training sessions.
Dr. Miller's study of the program, made when she was at the University of California, Davis, showed it works.
The randomized controlled trial covered 16 Sacramento area high schools with a total enrollment of just over 2,000 students. Eight of the schools used Coaching Boys into Men; the rest didn't. The athletes took surveys at the beginning of a sports season and at the end.
After using the program, athletes reported being more likely to try to stop disrespectful or harmful behaviors they witnessed among male peers.
"What we found was the boys who received the program were significantly more likely to have stepped in when they saw disrespectful or disruptive behavior," Dr. Miller said. "The reason that's important is when people remain silent, that silence is interpreted as approval by those perpetrating the abuse."
The participants also were slightly more likely to recognize abusive behaviors than the control group of athletes who didn't participate. They reported less verbal and emotional abuse against female partners as well. The study appeared in the April issue of The Journal of Adolescent Health.
Dr. Miller, who has been researching dating violence for about 10 years, strongly believes Coaching Boys into Men works.
"And in my heart of hearts I think most men and boys don't condone violence towards women, but we don't give them the skills to speak up and interrupt among their male peers," she added.
Ron Barney, athletic director for the San Juan Unified School District and athletic director/football coach for Mesa Verde High School within that Sacramento area district, holds similar beliefs. He used Coaching Boys into Men at Mesa Verde as part of Dr. Miller's study three years ago and was so impressed that he continues to use it. He also has made it his goal to see it adopted throughout the state of California.
After using it, the school "was just a happier and better place for them to be and just a better school climate," he said. "Our climate is just a whole different thing compared to most high schools. It's a pyramid thing; it spreads."
Along with his noticing a different behavior by the boys toward girls, Mr. Barney said "the girls also noticed it, and I think they were appreciative."
He feels the boys also liked the program. "I think they liked the respect they were able to give others -- and the esteem. ...
"I think it works because everyone wants boundaries in their life, rules and regulations. ..." Mr. Barney added. "You give them some boundaries, a better way to live, [you] see a difference."
Mr. O'Connor said Futures Without Violence has gotten similar feedback from both coaches and athletes.
"The young men particularly say nobody really teaches us this stuff. Everybody just expects us to know, referring to intimate relationships and not just sex, but what makes up a healthy relationship," he said.
"And then the coaches, many of them say they feel like this program is really an important piece of their entire sports program and that many of them already teach life skills and then try to build positive character, but that the program provides them with more of a structure to do that."
Dr. Miller said that several local domestic violence agencies are interested in seeing Coaching Boys into Men introduced into area schools. So, she added, are the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.
But, she added, "as excited as I am about having a program where I can say 'Wow! There is a program,' not every student is an athlete and exposed to coaches, so I think of [Coaching Boys into Men] as one of many programs that must be brought into the community to address dating and sexual violence."
For that reason she said she is trying to build "strong community partnerships" that include schools, sexual assault groups, parent groups, and faith-based and youth organizations.
"I really do not believe a single prevention program will be sufficient to change the norms around relationship abuse and sexual violence," she said.
For more information on Coaching Boys into Men, go to www.coachescorner.org .
Pohla Smith: email@example.com or 412-263-1228.