An Athletic Coach-Delivered School Program is Effective at Reducing Relationship Abuse and Sexual Violence Among Adolescents

The findings of a study published in JAMA Pediatrics show that an athletic coach delivered program for middle school male athletes is an effective strategy for reducing relationship abuse and sexual violence among adolescents.

“Adolescent relationship abuse (ARA) and sexual violence (SV) reported among adolescents point to the need for prevention among middle school–age youths,” the researchers authors wrote in their abstract.

In this unblinded cluster randomized clinical trial, researchers recruited 973 male middle athletes between the ages of 11 and 14 (grades 6-8, 54.5% white, 29% black) at 41 middle schools from spring 2015 to fall 2017. They were followed up with for the duration of one year with a high retention rate of 86%. The study intervention was the Coaching Boys Into Men (CBIM) program, which trains athletic coaches to converse with male athletes about: respectful relationship behaviors; promoting more gender-equitable attitudes; and positive bystander intervention when harmful behaviors among peers are witnessed.

The study’s primary endpoint was defined as a change in positive bystander behaviors (e.g., intervening in peers’ disrespectful or harmful behaviors); while the secondary outcomes were changes in recognition of what constitutes abusive behavior, intentions to intervene, gender-equitable attitudes, and reduction in recent ARA/SV perpetration.

According to the results of the study, positive bystander behaviors increased at end of sports season and at 1-year follow-up (relative risk=1.51; 95% CI, 1.06 to 2.16 and 1.53; 95% CI, 1.10 to 2.12, respectively) as did recognition of abuse (mean risk difference=0.14; 95% CI, 0.01 to 0.27 and 0.14; 95% CI, 0.00 to 0.28, respectively). The researchers observed that following 1-year follow-up, among those who ever dated, athletes on teams receiving CBIM had lower odds of reporting recent ARA/SV perpetration (odds ratio=0.24; 95% CI, 0.09 to 0.65).

“Gender attitudes and intentions to intervene did not differ between study arms,” the researchers wrote. “In exploratory intensity-adjusted and per protocol analyses, athletes on teams receiving CBIM were more likely to report positive bystander behaviors and to endorse equitable gender attitudes and less likely to report ARA and sexual harassment perpetration 1 year later.”