Program Summary

Shifting Boundaries: Lessons on relationships for students in middle school is an evidence-based, multi-level prevention program for middle school students on sexual harassment and precursors to dating violence. The program is unique in that it embraces an environmental approach that identifies multiple strategies to support young people – both school-wide interventions and classroom lessons.

"Program Goals

Shifting Boundaries is a two-part intervention—classroom curricula and schoolwide—designed to reduce dating violence and sexual harassment among middle school students by highlighting the consequences of this behavior for perpetrators and by increasing faculty surveillance of unsafe areas within the school. This primary prevention program aims to:
  • Increase knowledge and awareness of sexual abuse and harassment
  • Promote prosocial attitudes and a negative view of dating violence and sexual harassment
  • Promote nonviolent behavioral intentions in bystanders
  • Reduce the occurrence of dating and peer violence
  • Reduce the occurrence of sexual harassment

Target Population

Research suggests that adolescents can experience dating violence and sexual harassment as young as sixth grade (Callahan, Tolman, and Saunders 2003). Thus, the Shifting Boundaries intervention is designed for middle school students in sixth and seventh grades.

Program Activities

Shifting Boundaries is an intervention designed to reduce the incidence and prevalence of dating violence and sexual harassment among adolescents. The intervention consists of two parts: a classroom-based curricula and a schoolwide component.

Classroom Curricula

The classroom curricula has six sessions that cover 1) the construction of gender roles, 2) the setting and communicating of boundaries in interpersonal relationships, 3) healthy relationships, 4) the role of bystander as intervener, 5) the consequences of perpetrating, and 6) the State and Federal laws related to dating violence and sexual harassment. The six lessons are flexible with current school schedules and are taught over 6 to 10 weeks. Lessons are taught by trained substance abuse prevention and intervention specialists.

These six lessons use both concrete/applied materials and abstract thinking components. Two of the activities consist of students measuring their own personal space and creating ‘hot spot’ maps of their school that highlight safe and unsafe spaces in regard to dating violence and sexual harassment. The curriculum includes a fact-based component based on the idea that increased knowledge about facts and consequences of one’s behaviors are appropriate and useful primary prevention tools. Facts and statistics about sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating violence, and the legal definitions of all of these terms are part of this fact-based component. Students explore the concepts of laws and boundaries, consider laws as they apply by gender, plot the shifting nature of personal space, learn how to help a friend in need, and learn about other sources of help. One of the last activities dictates that students sign the Respecting Boundaries Agreement, which is tied to prohibited behaviors in the school rules.

Schoolwide Intervention

The second component of Shifting Boundaries is a school-level intervention. This intervention affects the entire school building and consists of revising school protocols for identifying and responding to dating violence and sexual harassment, the introduction of temporary school-based restraining orders, and the installation of posters in the school to increase awareness and reporting of dating violence/harassment. The classroom curricula and the schoolwide intervention are linked, as the student ‘hot spot’ maps of unsafe areas in school are used to determine the placement of faculty or school security for greater surveillance of these areas. The building interventions are conducted on the same schedule as the classroom curricula, lasting 6 to 10 weeks."

Evaluation Summary

"Overall, only the schoolwide intervention and the classroom/schoolwide-level (hereafter referred to as combined) intervention had statistically significant impacts on the outcomes, but the results overall were mixed. It appears that the most important classroom activity was the ‘hot spot’ mapping of unsafe areas within the school that informed the schoolwide-level intervention. However, the classroom curriculum, by itself, had no significant effect on any of the outcome measures."