A PIONEERING pilot scheme in Scottish secondary schools to tackle harassment, abuse and violence by men against women is to be rolled out to further council areas.
The £40,000 project – developed by Strathclyde Police's Violence Reduction Unit – was introduced last year in two schools in Inverclyde and Edinburgh.
Under the roll-out it will be taken up by secondaries in North Lanarkshire, the Borders, Perth and Kinross and East Ayrshire – with the involvement of more councils planned for the future.
The roll-out, funded by the Scottish Government, will also be supported by staff from national curriculum body Education Scotland.
The scheme's principal aim is to reduce domestic abuse by educating pupils about unacceptable behaviour within relationships, from persistent mobile phone texting to violence. It also highlights the issue of "sex-texting", where personal images or videos are sent to others through mobile phones.
Crucially, the project seeks to alert pupils to the responsibilities they have to intervene or report such incidents if the witness them or become aware of them.
It teaches them different ways to intervene, from speaking directly to those involved, causing a distraction or contacting the police or a headteacher.
While the long-term aim of the scheme is to tackle domestic abuse in the wider population, officials believe it will also improve behaviour in schools.
Official figures show an incident of domestic violence is recorded every 10 minutes in Scotland, with more than 50,000 every year. At least one in five Scottish women experiences domestic violence in her lifetime – with violence by women against men within relationships also an issue.
Worryingly, in 2005 an attitudes survey found 20% of young men believed women often provoke violence.
Chief Inspector Graham Goulden, who is leading the project, said a crucial element was the use of mentoring.
Some 70 senior pupils and teachers have already been trained as mentors to deliver the programme in the pilot schools to all S1 and S2 pupils.
In four years' time, every pupil in the target schools will have been given training through the Mentors in Violence Prevention scheme.
It will also be targeted at community groups and sports teams within the wider school community.
Mr Goulden said: "There are attitudes across Scotland to sex and dating violence where it is seen to be acceptable, and we need to be tackling this within our schools.
"What we are getting from the pilot school is that this is a very powerful way of doing that because it is not pointing the finger, but allows pupils to engage in discussions around these issues.
"We want to give young people the ability to discuss these issues in a safe environment, to engage when they see an incident and to create a positive climate within their school. This is not a magic solution – it won't stop abuse overnight – but we need to make clear that abusive behaviour is not the norm."
A spokesman for Education Scotland welcomed the programme's roll-out, saying: "The programme helps young people in secondary schools to tackle issues that relate to culture, beliefs and attitudes towards violence, in particular gender-based violence, thereby addressing some of the key aims of Curriculum for Excellence."