“That Sounds Like My Brother”

Young smiling woman in sweater stands next to young man in sweaterAfter 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 experienced an abusive relationship a few years before.

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 like playing lacrosse.

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.

Because she’d see it first-hand, she found it comforting and helpful to hear that violence isn’t just physical and that abuse can take many forms. Serena wished Simon could have had the training when he was younger because it might have saved him a lot of pain and isolation. Simon, she shared, 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.

“They are Powerful”

On a cold February morning, a dozen Eastside high school students arrived in Olympia 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 community. 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.”

Group of teen smiling at camera

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 manger “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.