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Safe Dates

Ages 14-15

Rating: Level 1


Safe Dates is a school-based program designed to stop or prevent the initiation of psychological, physical, and sexual abuse on dates or between individuals involved in a dating relationship. Its goals are to change adolescent dating violence norms, change adolescent gender-role norms, improve conflict resolution skills for dating relationships, promote victims’ and perpetrators’ beliefs in the need for help and awareness of community resources for dating violence, promote help-seeking by victims and perpetrators, and improve peer help-giving skills. Intended for middle and high school students, the Safe Dates program can stand alone or fit easily within a health education, family, or general life-skills curriculum. Because dating violence is often tied to substance abuse, Safe Dates also may be used with drug and alcohol prevention and general violence prevention programs.

The Safe Dates program includes a curriculum with nine 50-minute sessions, a 45-minute play to be performed by students, and a poster contest. The sessions:

1. Defining Caring Relationships. Students are introduced to Safe Dates and discuss how they wish to be treated in dating relationships.
2. Defining Dating Abuse.Discussing scenarios and statistics, students clearly define what dating abuse is.
3. Why Do People Abuse? Students identify the causes and consequences of dating abuse through large- and small-group scenario discussions.
4. How to Help Friends. Students learn why it is difficult to leave abusive relationships and how to help an abused friend through a decision-making exercise and dramatic reading.
5. Helping Friends. Students use stories and role-playing to practice skills for helping abused friends or confronting abusing friends.
6. Overcoming Gender Stereotypes. Students learn about gender stereotypes and how they affect dating relationships through a writing exercise, scenarios, and small-group discussions.
7. Equal Power Through Communication. Students learn the eight skills for effective communication and practice them in role-plays.
8. How We Feel, How We Deal. Students learn effective ways to recognize and handle anger through a diary and a discussion of “hot buttons,” so that anger does not lead to abusive behavior.
9. Preventing Sexual Assault. Students learn about sexual assault and how to prevent it through a quiz, a caucus, and a panel of peers.

Safe Dates involves family members through its parent letter and parent brochure, which provide information about and resources for dealing with teen dating abuse. In addition, schools can get parents more involved by hosting parent education programs or by talking with parents of children who are victims or perpetrators of dating abuse. Teachers are encouraged to connect with community resources by locating and using community domestic violence and sexual assault information, products, and services that provide valid health information.


The evaluation examined 14 public schools in a rural county in North Carolina. Schools were matched by size and randomly assigned to the treatment or control group. The control group was exposed only to the community activities, while the treatment group was exposed to both the school and community activities.

Baseline data was collected in October 1994, in the form of an in-school self-administered questionnaire, on 80 percent of the eligible 2,344 students (n=1,886). The questionnaire measured victimization and perpetration variables, perceived dating violence norms, awareness of services, help-seeking behaviors, conflict management skills, and responses to anger. There were no significant differences between the treatment and control groups at the baseline level.

Program activities took place between November 1994 and March 1995. In May 1995, 90 percent of the original 1,886 participant completed follow-up questionnaires (n=1,700). In May 1996, another follow-up questionnaire was distributed (n=1,603). A multivariate logistic regression showed no significant differences between the attrition rates of the control and treatment groups.

During the 3rd year after the treatment was completed, a follow-up study was conducted that used 10 of the schools in the original study (5 treatment and 5 control). Half of the students in the original treatment group were randomly assigned to receive a booster treatment. This consisted of a newsletter with information and worksheets based on the content of the Safe Dates curriculum. Students were given information on “red flags” of an abusive relationship, effective communication strategies, and safe dating tips. They were asked to write down how they did and did not wish to be treated by others and to think about the short- and long-term consequences of being in an abusive relationship. Four weeks after the mailing, students in this group were contacted by a health educator who answered any questions they had. If the health educator determined that a student had completed all of the worksheets, then the student was mailed $10. A questionnaire was sent to all three groups 4 years after the original treatment to determine levels of perpetration and victimization (n=460).


Researchers found that at the 1-month follow-up, compared with students in control schools, students in treatment schools exhibited 25 percent less psychological abuse perpetration, 60 percent less sexual violence perpetration, and 60 percent less violence perpetration against their current dating partner. Conversely, receiving the treatment did not reduce the likelihood of being the victim of psychological abuse, nonsexual violence, or sexual violence in a current dating relationship. Most program effects were explained by changes in the participant’s dating violence norms, gender stereotyping, and awareness of services. Gender was not a significant variable in the results.

At the 1-year follow-up, researchers found that there were no differences between the treatment group’s and the control group’s levels of victimization or perpetration. However, the treatment group continued to report being less accepting of dating violence and more aware of services than the control group did.

After 4 years, there were significantly more females participating in the study. Using a linear regression model, the researchers determined that gender still was not a significant factor in the results. Those students participating in the Safe Dates program exhibited significantly less sexual, physical, and serious physical abuse perpetration than the control group did. They also experienced significantly less sexual victimization. There were no differences seen between the Safe Dates group that received the booster and the Safe Dates group that did not. Therefore, the Safe Dates program showed a resurgence of positive results, while the booster did not show any additional positive effects.

Risk Factors


  • Anti-social behavior and alienation/Delinquent beliefs/General delinquency involvement/Drug dealing
  • Early sexual involvement
  • Victimization and exposure to violence

Protective Factors


  • Healthy / Conventional beliefs and clear standards
  • Positive / Resilient temperament
  • Social competencies and problem-solving skills


  • SAMHSA: Model Programs


Foshee, Vangie Ann, Karl E. Bauman, Ximena B. Arriaga, Russell W. Helms, Gary G. Koch, and George Fletcher Linder. 1998. “An Evaluation of Safe Dates, an Adolescent Dating Violence Prevention Program.” American Journal of Public Health 88:45–50.

Foshee, Vangie Ann, Karl E. Bauman, Susan T. Ennett, George Fletcher Linder, Thad Benefield, and Chirayath Suchindran. 2004. “Assessing the Long-Term Effects of the Safe Dates Program and a Booster in Preventing and Reducing Adolescent Dating Violence Victimization and Perpetration.” American Journal of Public Health 94(4):619–24.

Foshee, Vangie Ann, Karl E. Bauman, Wendy F. Greene, Gary G. Koch, George Fletcher Linder, and James E. MacDougall. 2000. “The Safe Dates Program: 1-Year Follow-Up Results.” American Journal of Public Health 90:1619–22.


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