Avanti Adhia, ScD, previously a Postdoctoral Scholar at the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center and now an Assistant Professor at the University of Washington, recently published research in JAMA Pediatrics. It explores how US states are actively seeking strategies to prevent and address teen dating violence (TDV) in schools, including enactment and implementation of TDV laws.
Dr. Adhia’s research used policy surveillance to conduct a cross-sectional study that found most US states had laws addressing TDV in schools, but there was significant variation in the content and comprehensiveness of the laws.
We asked Dr. Adhia a few questions about her work.
What did you find in your research?
AA: As of September 2020, we found that about three-quarters of states had at least one law addressing teen dating violence (TDV) in secondary schools. Importantly, in the states that do have relevant laws, we saw a lot of variability in the content and comprehensiveness.
What was the most surprising thing you uncovered as you did your analysis?
AA: I was surprised by how many states actually have laws covering dating violence in schools!
How did policy surveillance methods support your work?
AA: Policy surveillance methods were central to this work to identify which states had laws related to TDV prevention and response in secondary schools. This paper presents the laws at one point in time (September 2020), but this was part of a larger effort to understand these laws and their evolution over time. In order to understand the content of the laws, we used the systematic, rigorous policy surveillance methods from the Center for Public Health Law Research to turn the laws into an empirical database. Throughout the process, we consulted with folks from the Center and received input on our protocol and procedures to ensure the rigor of our work.
How can this research help inform policymaking decisions going forward?
AA: This research highlights states that do not yet have a law on TDV in schools, so policymakers in those states may want to consider enacting such a law. These results can also provide potential ideas for improving existing laws by understanding what kinds of components may be important to include. For example, some state laws require schools provide TDV education but may not require schools to have written policies around TDV or designate an individual to coordinate these efforts. Hopefully this research can be helpful in laying out the potential components of these laws for policymakers and advocates to consider.
What should policymakers at the local, state, and federal level do to make an impact on TDV?
AA: There has been a growing recognition of TDV at the federal level. In January 2022, President Biden proclaimed February 2022 as National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month and noted the administration’s commitment to supporting programs for adolescents to develop safe and healthy relationships.
This awareness raising and commitment is important, as it explicitly names TDV as a societal issue. There was a lot of different terminology used in the laws we looked at in this study (e.g., abusive relationships, healthy relationships, relationship abuse), so naming and defining TDV is really foundational. TDV is also included in the recent reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, with increased support for prevention efforts. Importantly, much of the implementation of TDV laws happens at the state (e.g., through Departments of Education) or more local level, so policymakers at those levels can work to ensure there are resources and accountability to carry out these laws within schools. The federal government could also help set some minimum standards by providing resources to states if they agree to implementing particular strategies (e.g., evidence-based prevention programs in schools), for example.
What tools are available to help educate people about the rise of TDV, especially on the high prevalence of cyber abuse?
AA: There are a lot of great organizations providing education, support, and resources around TDV, such as Futures Without Violence and love is respect (a project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline).
- One Love provides helpful educational videos.
- Futures Without Violence recently came out with interesting research on teen economic abuse.
- The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence also has an informative fact sheet available.
Where should research in this area (including yours!) go from here?
AA: Understanding how the laws are being implemented in practice would be useful, as there are likely some gaps in awareness of and resources to carry out the laws. Population-level studies to understand whether these state-level laws are effective in reducing dating violence is needed, so we can know if and how much state laws can affect dating violence, and importantly, which components of the laws might be most impactful.