Providing Dating Violence Prevention Through Education, Part II
By Keith Martin, Assistant Editor
Part I of this article looked at the issue of dating violence among teens and a classroom program for high school students in Washington D.C. Part II looks at a pair of community-based organizations that are also looking to educate young people on the topic of dating violence prevention.
With the realization that a number of young people across the country are dealing with dating violence either themselves or through a peer, a number of programs are addressing the issue and teaching prevention. Whether in a church basement or a classroom, each program looks to bring young people together to talk candidly about the issues they face.
"There is no ideal location for [these programs] - they fit wherever," says Dr. Gary Hansen, of the University of Kentucky - Cooperative Extension Service's Department of Community and Leadership Development. "You have to create an environment where kids are brought together in a place where they are serious about talking about their experiences. Most teens, in the right settings, want to talk about intimate relationships."
Hansen adds that while many think of the classroom as the natural location for dating violence prevention programs, some schools may be hesitant to address such a topic.
"To a certain extent, [there are areas] that don't want to admit it happens with our kids, in our schools," he says. "With dating violence, [schools] are a little more willing to [address it] because a partner does it, whereas with sexual harassment, they could be held legally responsible for not reacting."
Along with those schools that provide programs, many community-based organizations are also looking at providing prevention curricula to their members and others.
In the mid-1990's, Hansen helped co-author "Sexual Integrity for Teens," a program developed by the Cooperative Extension Service. One part of the program features fact sheets and a teacher's guide to educate young people on dating violence. The curriculum has been used in a number of settings, including one component of the Cooperative Extension - 4H.
"Historically, [4H] is known as a rural program geared toward [farming] families," says Hansen. "But across the nation, it goes to all types of kids and backgrounds and [deals with] more personal issues."
Increasing Teens' Awareness, Self-Esteem
Hansen's curriculum consists of a combination of fact sheets and discussion points on numerous topics facing teens. Initially created as a train-the-trainer program, since being posted on the Internet by the National Network for Family Resiliency, he says there is no longer the need for face-to-face training of the curriculum. Now, users anywhere can simply print it out and present it to their target audience, modifying it as needed.
"It's called a 'teaching guide,' but it's really more suggestions," says Hansen. "Every person can run the program for kids differing in what they feel comfortable doing. You have to tailor it and see what works best."
In Hardin County, Kentucky, one local 4H club used the dating violence section and tailored it to a group of teenage girls who were facing the issue.
"[The program] was excellent," says Beth Loving, 4H/Youth Development Program Assistant for the county's 4H group. "There is nothing else on the market as good, particularly the teacher's guide. I continue to use it."
In the spring of 2002, Loving first used the curriculum with these students, chosen by the high school, and added a component on self-esteem.
"These young ladies also [exhibited] low self-esteem, so I incorporated another curriculum [with Hansen's]," says Loving. "You have to like yourself, know who you are and look to the future before you can focus on dating violence and why you are allowing this to happen."
Loving admits that addressing dating violence with young people is a little controversial, especially in her region of the state. This is because it addresses intimate relationships, which implies sexual relationships, which are often a touchy subject.
While this may be the case, she adds that such education is needed now more than ever, largely because of the makeup of the family unit these young people are coming from.
"We are seeing more 'blended families' and multiple partners," says Loving. "The continuity of how a relationship is supposed to be is not there. Since using the program, every student [I've taught] has had the same makeup - lack of continuity in parental guidance, divorce and multiple partners."
Showing Youth 'A Woman's Worth'
Like 4H, the Girl Scouts are another nationwide, community-based organization looking to provide dating violence prevention to interested youth. In November of 2002, the Connecticut Valley Girl Scout Council began training high school teens to be peer mentors and educators to their middle school counterparts.
The program, entitled "A Woman's Worth," is another form of the nationally used SAFE DATES program, created by Dr. Vangee Foshee, a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. The Council modified Foshee's program, integrating popular culture as well as the chance to earn patches, to implement it with its members and provide a holistic, well-rounded program for both trainers and audience.
"In the past three years, we've encountered lots of girls who are the victims of dating violence or sexual assault," says Ayodele Shell, Manager of Membership Initiatives for the Council. "We tried to make our program bridge the gap between the ages, with high school girls as the trainers and middle school and high school freshman girls as the audience."
Shell admits that tackling a topic like dating violence may seem strange to some who have a traditional view of the Girl Scouts of America, but much like 4H, they are dealing with the issues that directly affect their members.
"We are seen as this lily-white, squeaky-clean [organization], but here, we address issues affecting the girls involved," she says. "Some people were pretty surprised [when we began the program] and some schools said it was not a good thing. We even had entrenched volunteers of 50 years or more and they were not used to Girl Scouts moving in this direction, but we provide girls with the Girl Scout experience and [stay current with] the times."
In fact, adds Shell, while some schools decided not to incorporate the "A Woman's Worth" program because it was "too touchy," other schools have been very supportive.
"We have a good relationship with schools and had done 'Teen Life' conferences in the past [in several schools]," she says. "We've always had an overwhelming response on sexual assault, dating and relationship [workshops at the conferences], so we used that as a springboard [to initiate the new program]. We learned that teachers want to do something [for their students]."
Getting Off the Ground
To create "A Woman's Worth," the Council applied for funding through the Girl Scouts of America and the Corporation for National and Community Service. When looking for a curriculum to use with the funding, they found SAFE DATES through the Connecticut Medical Center's Violence Prevention Program. Together, the Council and the Center worked to modify the program and bring it to school-aged children in the Connecticut Valley.
While gearing their new program towards teens, Shell says there were some important revelations that needed to be discovered so 'A Woman's Worth" spoke to its audience.
"Young people [today] are exposed to a lot more different things and, through video, movies and media, have a different culture," says Shell. "What's interesting is how adults and teens see violence and safety differently. For example, adults see school safety as locked doors and no unauthorized people in the school. [Young girls] see it as teachers not violating their personal space, boys not inappropriately touching them and fighting with both boys and girls. There is a different mold of what they think 'violence' is."
To reflect this, the Connecticut Girl Scout's program begins with participants looking at themselves, how they perceive violence and how it affects their life. Next, they conduct role-plays - including a lawyer defending an abuser - and then Shell's favorite part, where the group looks at their own images of relationships.
"It gets kids talking about where [they get their perceptions] - television, videos, their parents, their friends and other places," she says. "They start to think about relationships and what they look like."
For Shell, programs like "A Woman's Worth" are essential to get young people talking and sharing about the difficult issues they face. She advises those without such mechanisms to simply do the research on whether dating violence is affecting youth and put something in place to help them.
"Get the facts, then get information from the girls, through a survey for example, to show a need for the program," she says. "There are a lot of communities in denial [about dating violence]. In terms of working with more affluent, suburban communities, they [tend to] shy away from the issue and don't think it is happening. Find out if it is needed by going to the kids and finding out what is going on."
Dr. Gary Hansen, Department of Community and Leadership Development, University of Kentucky- Cooperative Extension Services, (859) 257-7586
To access Dr. Hansen's "Sexual Integrity for Teens" curriculum, click here. For the teaching guide on dating violence, click here.
Beth Loving, 4H/Youth Development Program Assistant, Hardin County (Ky.) 4H, (270) 765-4121, http://ces.ca.uky.edu/hardin/youthdev/
Ayodele Shell, Manager of Membership Initiative, Conn. Valley Girl Scout Council, Inc., firstname.lastname@example.org, www.girlscouts-ct.org.
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