Green Dot Shows Impact in Shifting Social Norms in High Schools


t Alteristic, when we talk about preventing power-based personal violence, we talk about the importance of culture change. Our goal is to create a culture where sexual assault and dating violence are not tolerated and where everyone is expected to do their part to keep each other safe. Why is this so important? Because we know that community and societal norms that tolerate or support sexual violence and aggression are risk factors that increase the likelihood of more people being hurt.

That’s why we focus on changing social norms and shifting our overall culture so that we can proactively prevent harm by creating environments that are inhospitable to dating and sexual violence. The exciting news is that  newly released research findings lend support to Green Dot’s ability to do just that: to influence individuals to engage in reactive and proactive behaviors that, over time, add up into a greater culture change where power-based personal violence is not tolerated.

As we have previously discussed on this blog, beginning in 2010, independent researchers conducted a longitudinal, five-year cluster randomized control trial in 26 high schools in Kentucky to test the impact of the Green Dot High School strategy. The Green Dot strategy is, in part, informed by the Diffusion of Innovation model, and this was reflected in the High School implementation. Educators focused on delivering Bystander Intervention trainings to popular opinion leaders (also called early adopters) first, so that these students could use their natural influence to spread their new knowledge, attitudes, and skills to their peers.

The first results of the study were released in 2017, when the researchers reported that the Green Dot strategy reduced sexual assault perpetration by 17-21% in the intervention schools in years 3 and 4 of the trial. A follow-up paper was recently released using the same data that provides more insight into the Green Dot strategy’s impact on culture change.

The new 2019 study found that over the course of five years, the Green Dot strategy resulted in significant reductions in both dating violence and sexual violence acceptance at the individual and school level in years 3 and 4 of implementation. These findings have some encouraging implications.

  • The social norm changes in violence acceptance were found at both the individual and school level in years 3 and 4. Not only were the students who actually received training showing decreased acceptance of dating and sexual violence, but these changed norms were diffusing to students who had never been trained. This suggests that the Diffusion of Innovation model may be effective in spreading new social norms around power-based personal violence across a broader population.
  • To measure sexual violence acceptance, the researchers used a modified version of the Illinois Rape Myth Acceptance Scale. These results show reductions in rape myth acceptance/sexual violence acceptance at the individual and school-wide level. Part of the Green Dot strategy is that we do not directlychallenge rape myths in the classroom setting. Instead, when rape myths or victim blaming is introduced, we opt to disarm and engage through normalizing, validating and re-directing so that we can keep our focus on finding solutions and engaging our entire audience as part of the prevention process. These results provide more support to the idea that we can decrease rape myth acceptance without engaging in direct confrontation in the training room.

Above all, these results are hopeful. The idea of shifting cultural norms can feel so broad and intangible that it can seem overwhelming to attempt to change them. And yet, these findings bolster the idea that we canchange culture: one Green Dot, one intervention, one student, one staff at a time, adding up into something transformational.

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