All photography provided by Jared Chambers

Our goal is to prevent relationship violence, sexual harassment and assault in schools. 

Our Mission

Violence against women is a widespread public health problem. “Men’s violence against women is a pervasive feature of life in every country in the world” (Peacock and Barker, 2014, p. 1). “More than 700 million women worldwide are subject to physical violence at the hands of a husband, boyfriend or partner in their lifetime” (Klugman et al, 2014, p. 3). Addressing gender-based violence in any community—be it within a national population, a religious, ethnic or social group, or a school—requires addressing the individual attitudes and beliefs of individuals as well as the shared social norms around gender roles and romantic relationships held by the community. In the past 15 years, violence prevention efforts have engaged men and boys as partners, activists, allies and participants. This paper will review some of the perspectives related to engaging men and boys in promoting positive norms to prevent violence.  In addition, this paper will examine how the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE)  might prevent IPV on its own campus--and in the greater U.S. education system--to create safer and healthier communities.  Specifically, the HGSE Sexal Assault Task Force is an example of a recently-formulated framework for action that has the potential to directly address gender-based violence and holistic violence-prevention initiatives.

Changing Social Norms and Violence Prevention


Organizations working to achieve gender equality implement a wide variety of approaches, depending on the context and goals of their work. These approaches include large-scale international frameworks, such as the Conventional on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); developing national plans of action such as legal protections and funding for survivor response systems; and local programs targeting multiple goals, such as engaging women in economic empowerment programs and increasing girls’ access to and enrollment in education. Interventions, programs and campaigns that specifically address social norms are a critical part of these efforts.  According to Paluck and Ball, “It has become clear that gender-based violence is promoted by dysfunctional social norms that perpetuate gendered power inequalities and gendered abuse, and that solutions are often stymied by social norms against reporting and speaking out against such abuse. Thus, social norms are an important target of interventions” (2010, p. 11).  The link between gender-based violence and social norms is now well recognized and are increasingly the focus of organizations aiming to advance gender equality. But it is important to explain what is meant by “social norms” to fully understand this development.

Social norms are the rules and laws that govern the behaviors of a group. Social norms can be seen as “powerful prescriptions reflected in formal structures of society and in its informal rules, beliefs and attitudes” (Klugman et al, 2014, p.25). Norms define what is appropriate behavior for girls, boys, men and women. Conformity and deviance from these norms results in rewards and sanctions (Paluck and Ball, 2010).  Individual attitudes and beliefs are related to, but separate from, social norms, and both should thus be addressed as distinct goals in prevention efforts. For example, a husband’s personal belief might be  “women can be good at solving problems”, but the norm of his community might be “men should make decisions for the family”. If he asks his wife for her perspective on a family decision—or invites her to make a decision—he would be breaking a social norm and may risk losing social status and respect from his community (Paluck and Ball, 2010).

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