A team of researchers has shown that domestic abuse prevention programmes are able to have a positive impact on secondary school children's attitudes to violence.
Principle investigator Professor David Gadd, from The University of Manchester, says the research bolsters calls for Governments to incorporate 'relationship education' into the school curriculum.
The 'REaDAPt' project, which studied 2,395 young people at programmes in England, France and Spain, has also produced a 180 page toolkit for teachers on tackling the subject.
The toolkit will strengthen efforts to deal with domestic violence among school-age children.
Teenage girls in European countries as diverse as the UK, Spain, Sweden, Malta and Germany - are two or more times as likely to be victims as older women.
According to the researchers, many young people, especially boys, believe it is acceptable to hit their partner.
However, the European Union funded project found that educational interventions can change attitudes in the space of a few weeks.
Questionnaires to the children in each of the countries revealed the programmes improved their attitudes towards domestic violence – especially in England and Spain.
Professor Gadd said: "We now know that domestic abuse prevention programmes can have a positive impact on the attitudes of young people.
"So the challenge is to encourage governments to incorporate this across the mainstream curriculum and build a workable infrastructure at every secondary school-age year.
"Rather than confining relationship education to special sessions that are tangential to the assessed curriculum, geography or maths, for example, could tackle domestic abuse prevalence in different parts of the world, and the experience of victims could be appropriate for literature or even music classes.
"So this is really a question of finding a way to build capacity, so that we can tackle one of the most serious problems facing young people today."
A moving film called Through a Child's Eyes, where a young boy talks about his experience of witnessing his father being violent towards his mother through pictures he has drawn, has been refashioned by the project so that young people can share it via YouTube with their teachers and schools.
Professor Gadd added: "Appraising young people about the risks of domestic abuse in intimate relationships and the nature of domestic abuse is crucial to any strategy to seriously reduce the prevalence of gender -based violence in European countries.
"It is critical that evidence-based materials are provided to schools and teachers and educators. It is also important that teachers and educators are fully supported in providing relationship education and domestic abuse prevention tuition.
"However, a top-down, standardised approach from Government won't work: teachers need to know what their class is thinking before they teach them.
"And they must be supported in developing the skills and confidence needed to innovate and evaluate what they do.
"This has to involve seeking out young people's perspectives on the content and delivery of relationship education and domestic abuse prevention tuition, and asking how they would improve it."
Other key findings of the project include:
- Preventative programmes are most effective at changing attitudes if delivered over a number of weeks.
- Relationship education programmes do not always succeed in encouraging young people to seek help from adults and must therefore identify a range of means by which young people can seek support and advice.
- Educators must address tensions between promoting gender equality and depicting violence as a gendered phenomenon.
- Educators must also address tensions between encouraging young people to express their own perceptions and the need to challenge sexist stereotypes and victim blaming.
More information: A graph showing the successful impact of the preventative programmes is available at www.readapt.eu/