By Kathleen Wong, 18, California
Art created by ACT Against Teen Dating Violence
Advocating Change Together (ACT) is a peer health advocacy program at Girls Incorporated of Alameda County, California. ACT has chosen to advocate for the cause of teen dating violence prevention because this is an issue that seriously impacts our communities and youth.
Teen dating violence is defined as a pattern of actual or threatened acts of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse, perpetrated by a partner to gain and maintain power and control over another. Statistics reveal that at least one in three high school and college-age young people experience violence in an intimate or dating relationship.
Domestic violence is the number one cause of injury to women between the ages of 15–44. Most people stay in their violent relationships—in part because victims usually blame themselves for causing the violence.
The purpose of ACT is: (1) to allow high school girls to be involved in and advocate for issues affecting women/girls in the community; (2) to reduce the violence in our communities; (3) to encourage youth to have healthy relationships that build a sense of well-being, (4) to increase awareness of the health issues stemming from dating violence; (5) to raise community awareness of available resources; and (6) to create systemic change in San Leandro and Oakland that will benefit present and future generations.
The ACT program consists of groups in San Leandro and Oakland. Participants are first educated about how to be advocates and they learn about teen dating violence and healthy relationships. ACT creates system change by recommending policy, based on our own research analysis, which is then presented to policymakers such as the San Leandro City Council and school administrators. Every month, ACT participants are required to educate at least four peers to enlighten them about the problems of teen dating violence and the benefits of having healthy relationships. In addition, ACT does advocacy, runs workshops, conducts research, and outreaches through social media to local high schools to educate and prevent teen dating violence in the community. Topics addressed include violence, misconceptions of rape, the cycle of abuse, power, and control, being an ally, setting boundaries, and many others.
Recently ACT participants used mannequins as a canvas to illustrate the effects of healthy and unhealthy relationships on our emotional, physical, and sexual health. A division on the body of the mannequin indicates the contrasting effects of violent and nonviolent relationships on the body. Half of each mannequin shows the positive benefits of a nonviolent and respectful relationship characterized by equality; there are images of hearts and happiness, along with words of endearment on this part of the collage. The unhealthy sides of the mannequins have extensive imagery of cuts, wounds, and bruises, in addition to multiple insults and offensive words. One mannequin has a fencing—like the fencing that surrounds many homes—on the side of healthy imagery of a relationship—to convey the message that everything may seem all peachy and lovey-dovey on the outside, but behind closed doors, that is where the violence occurs.
All of these mannequins illustrate that teen dating violence is not only physical and sexual, but also emotional and mental, and likely to have lasting effects on the victims’ lives. For example, dating violence can foster low self-esteem, and make its victims accustomed to violent partners and to being treated as unequal and unworthy.
My experience in ACT has been life changing. ACT has helped me grow as a person. I’ve learned how to network. I have become more confident and less shy. And I have improved my public speaking skills. Overall, I’m becoming smart, strong, and bold! Also, being a part of ACT has changed my perspective on how I look at my community. Because of ACT, I am more aware of what goes on in my community. Before, I never would’ve thought that I could actually make a difference in helping my community. But now, thanks to ACT, I am very determined and passionate about doing whatever I can to make positive changes for my community.
My hope for ACT is that the program will continue as long as possible because it sends such a powerful and positive message to young people that we can advocate for change by working together. I would also like to see ACT become more involved in the community, which has started happening. ACT girls have been attending community meetings to learn more about violence prevention and ways to improve public education on this topic. I hope this trend will continue and we will get even more involved in the community. One day, I hope the community will know the value of what we do. I hope the community already knows ACT is working to make improvements and that we care!
You can learn more about ACT’s move against teen dating violence by following ACT on Girls IncACT.tumblr.com, GirlsIncACT on Twitter, and by liking Advocating Change Together Girls Inc. of Alameda County on Facebook.
For more information on healthy dating relationships, see the Teen Voices article in the 2012 Teen Focus section of the online Boston Parents Paper, pages 6-8 at: http://bostonparentspaper.digitalparenthood.com/DigitalAnywhere/viewer.aspx?id=8&pageId=1
There are other organziations that can help too:
We happen to know of two Jewish organizations that offer fantastic teen dating violence prevention programs and curriculum, Shalom Bayit in Oakland, California has Love Shouldn’t Hurt and Jewish Women International has a prevention program for girls called Strong Girls and one for boys called Good Guys.