UK receives grant to test dating violence-prevention program

University of Kentucky researchers will use a $2 million federal grant to test whether a UK-conceived program to prevent dating violence can help stem abuse among the state's high school students.

UK's Center for Research on Violence Against Women received one of two sought-after $2 million grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It will be paid out over five years, the university announced Thursday.

Educators will use the money to provide a violence-awareness program called Green Dot to 13 Kentucky high schools, starting this spring.

UK researchers then will survey students at those schools and at 13 high schools that won't have the Green Dot program to measure the program's effectiveness.

Green Dot, created five years ago by UK researchers and implemented on the campus, first educates students to intervene when they see instances of violence between peers, particularly couples who are dating.

"It engages everyone — men and women — in violence prevention by teaching students how to safely and actively bystand to address the risk of violence," said Ann L. Coker, UK's Verizon Wireless endowed chair of studies on violence against women. "We think of bystanders as passive observers, but we're teaching students that they can actively engage their friends and classmates to prevent violence."

Educators will instruct students about how to help a victim or to intervene, such as stopping a peer from initiating sex with someone under the influence of alcohol. After going through awareness education, students display green dot stickers on their clothes to further reinforce awareness.

UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. told about 80 people attending an announcement of the grant that Green Dot has the potential to make a difference in Kentucky — where 14.9 percent of teens reported involvement in dating violence in 2007 — and nationally.

"It hurts our self-esteem," he said. "What better thing to do than to do research on things like that and solve those?"

In Kentucky, about one in nine women and one in six children will experience sexual assault, said Eileen Recktenwald, executive director of the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs.

The program can help high school students who are being pulled into "high-risk" situations at parties, said Dorothy Edwards, a senior at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School whose mother is a researcher at UK and is the creator of Green Dot.

"By the time I graduate, too many of my friends have already been raped," Edwards said.