After class, Serena approached LifeWire’s Youth Advocate to talk about what she’d learned from LifeWire’s presentation on healthy relationships. Her voice shook with emotion as she spoke. Serena explained that her older brother Simon had been in an abusive relationship a few years before.
Witnessing dating violence
Serena described the verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse Simon experienced from his girlfriend. How she tried to manipulate and threaten him with comments like “If you loved me, you would do this,” and “I guess you don’t care about me, no one does. I should kill myself.”
She was a constant presence in Simon’s life. Calling all hours of the day, demanding his attention when Simon had practice or family commitments, and intentionally causing problems with his friends and then demanding Simon choose between them and her. The abuse affected Simon’s mental health, his relationships with his friends and family, and his ability to enjoy the things he loved.
Serena teared up as she talked about how LifeWire’s healthy relationship training made it clear that domestic and dating violence isn’t just men hurting women. All genders can experience abuse.
Overcoming stigma as a male survivor
Because she’d seen it first-hand, Serena found it reassuring to learn that dating violence can take many forms. Serena wished Simon could have had the training when he was younger. “The training might have saved him a lot of pain and isolation.” She shared that Simon didn’t tell any of his friends what was happening because he was embarrassed. The stigma of being a young male survivor of dating violence kept him from reaching out for support from friends and community resources. But, Serena reflected, she was so glad the training would help other young men like her brother.
Safe and healthy families are the key to ensuring safe and vibrant communities. We each have the power to change our culture of violence to one of kindness and compassion through words and our actions. Here are ways you can help build a world free from violence, where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.
On a cold February morning, a dozen Eastside high school students arrived in Olympia. They were excited to participate in Domestic Violence Advocacy Day for the first time. The members of GOVAA (Gender Orientated Violence Advocacy and Activism), an after-school club at Interlake High School, all share a deep commitment to supporting survivors of gender-based violence and promoting healthy relationships within their school and communities. Many have experienced domestic violence in their own families or watched friends struggle with dating violence and unhealthy relationships. They were eager to tell their stories and, as one student shared, “change the world.”
In the morning, the students gathered with DV advocates from across the state to learn about legislation affecting survivors. Many of the youth were surprised by how many of the bills aimed at preventing homelessness and addressing poverty would also help survivors of domestic violence. By the time they met with their representatives, the students felt energized to “improve the lives of our community members.”
Their enthusiasm was contagious. After sharing their personal stories about gender-based violence and how violence impacted their family and friends, a legislative aide told LifeWire’s Social Change Manager, “they are powerful.”
Young people have a tremendous ability to shift culture if we empower them. The youth only spent a day in Olympia, but it had ripple effects in the community and their lives. Several of the bills the youth advocated for became law, increasing protections for survivors and low-income families. GOVAA is looking for other ways to enact policy changes on the Eastside. And one of the students has decided to run for student body office next year.
Team Up Washington recognizes that high school athletic coaches and mentors play an extremely influential role in the lives of young people. Because of the time they spend with student-athletes and the relationships they develop, coaches and mentors are uniquely poised to positively influence how young people think and behave, on and off the field.
Bailey seemed tentative when she approached the LifeWire advocate. The sophomore health class had just finished an hour and a half training on domestic and teen dating violence. Working in pairs, the students acted out different dating scenarios designed to teach them how to recognize the warning signs of unhealthy relationships. Bailey told the LifeWire advocate that she recognized several of these signs in her own relationship.
She had been dating a boy at her Eastside high school for several months. Over time, he became increasingly controlling. He checked her texts, demanded she spend time with him, and refused to listen when Bailey tried to break up with him. But, because he had never hit her or yelled at her, Bailey hadn’t considered their relationship unhealthy.
For twenty minutes Bailey talked with the LifeWire advocate about how to approach the break-up she planned for the next day. Together, they created a safety plan, discussing where the break-up would take place and how she would get support from friends and family.
Thanks to partnerships with local high schools, colleges, and universities, LifeWire uses innovative exercises to engage students like Bailey and provide them with the skills they need to have healthy relationships. These trainings also open the door for students to talk about domestic or teen dating violence and receive the support they need to live healthy lives.