Taking a stand against violence

A project is using peer mentors to focus on what bystanders can do. Elizabeth Buie reports

Pupils in two Scottish schools are to be trained how to intervene and prevent violence under a new project led by the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU).

Youngsters at Portobello High, Edinburgh, and the joint campus of St Stephen's and Port Glasgow High, Inverclyde, will take part in the project which encourages people to challenge aggressive and inappropriate behaviour. The two schools were selected for their enthusiasm rather than any particular problems.

MVP Scotland is modelled on the Mentors in Violence Prevention programme developed by Dr Jackson Katz and now used in schools, universities and armed forces training facilities across the US. It uses a "bystander" approach, encouraging people to take a stand against harassment, abuse and violence rather than just ignoring it.

Thirty people from each school will be trained initially - a mix of teachers, youth workers and community members. They will then pass their knowledge on to "peer mentors" from S4-6, who will in turn pass their knowledge on to other pupils.

Rachel Barr, a school-based social worker at Portobello High, who is undertaking the initial training course, said: "We want to look at what the pupils would do as a bystander if they are witnessing difficult situations or if they see something happening that they don't think is OK."

Dr Mairead Tagg of Glasgow East Women's Aid, who has been advising on the development of the MVP Scotland programme, said: "We're seeing children being exposed to highly sexualised behaviour, difficult family situations and complex social dynamics, while being bombarded by different messages through social media. MVP gives them a third option with safe ways to intervene."

If successful, the project, supported by the Scottish Government, could be rolled out nationwide following evaluation.

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