Stand 4 Us
For too long we have treated teen dating abuse as an inevitable part of some teen relationships. In terms of prevention, we thought that the best that we could do was to try to protect the kids in our communities by telling them about abuse, by warning them about red flags, and by trying to equip them with the skills necessary to dodge abusive relationships.
These risk reduction strategies alone aren’t working. First, they haven’t significantly reduced rates of teen dating abuse, and second, we don’t think that they are very fair to teens. Rather than trying to teach our kids how to navigate the risks in our communities, we think that it’s the responsibility of adults to work to eliminate those risks. Because we are mostly in charge of the neighborhoods, classrooms, clubs, hallways, locker rooms, communities and congregations where young people spend their time, we should work to make respectful behavior the easy and expected choice in all of these places. This is our job.
We might not automatically think that the places where teens spend their time would have a strong influence on their behavior, but teens report that their neighborhoods are one of the top places where they got information about how relationships work (Start Strong, 2013). Even if we equip teens with perfect information about how we think relationships should work, they probably won’t change their behavior if they see disrespectful and abusive actions as the norm in the places where they live, learn, and socialize.
As long as abuse remains an option that works, some teens will continue to choose it. As adults, we have the ability to take abusive behavior off of the table as a choice by making it not work. The tabs in this section provide information about policies that schools and youth service organizations can adopt to establish standards of respectful behavior and to guide our consistent response when young people behave in abusive ways. By working together, we can use our knowledge, partnerships, resources and determination to ensure that the spaces that our kids occupy are safe, and to establish respectful relationships as the expected norm. This is what our kids deserve.
Standing 4 Respect at School
Teens consistently report that abuse and harassment are happening at school (AAUW, 2011).
There has long been a sense among adults that these behaviors are just “kids being kids”, and that verbal harassment doesn’t have a significant impact. But young people tell us that they are negatively impacted by these behaviors. In the American Association of University Women’s 2011 report about sexual harassment in schools, 48% of students reported an experience of sexual harassment within the 2010-2011 school year, and the majority of those reported that the experience had a negative effect on them. Girls identified negative impacts including loss of sleep (22%), and not wanting to go to school (37%).
Rather than just warning teens about potential behaviors to avoid (this approach hasn’t been very effective in reducing the prevalence of abusive behaviors among teens), policy guides the action that adults will take to create and maintain safe, supportive environments. It is in schools’ interest to adopt policies that prohibit abuse and promote respectful behavior because students are better able to learn when they feel safe, and because these policies support schools’ compliance with legal obligations under federal (Title IX) and state (Indiana’s bullying legislation) education laws.
Advocating for Policy Adoption
A well planned and implemented policy is more than just words, but it honestly isn’t rocket science. Folks who don’t have experience working with policy may find the very word frightening, but policy basically provides us with a map that describes our standards, how we will implement them, and what we will do when things go wrong. Whether advocating for policy, writing the language, or supporting the implementation, we can all take an active role in policy work. The following materials provides information about who you might work with and planning steps that can help you to make the case for the local adoption of school policies to promote respectful relationships among all students.
1. Evaluate the organizational environment.
Strategies for this assessment might include reading organizational publications and asking key informants including teens, members of staff and parents.
Prior to making the case for policy work, it makes sense to think about what’s going on your school or district.
- What are the school’s protocols, priorities, challenges, strengths?
- Is this a crazy time in their calendar?
This approach will help you to identify possible opportunities, barriers and potential allies.
2. Determine what individuals or groups you must persuade (see the following school governance structure chart for more information about the school decision making process)
Determining the key stakeholders will help you to frame an effective case.
- Who makes policy decisions for your school?
- What voices are best poised to influence those you seek to persuade?
3. Identify key allies. Broad-based support is most effective for any initiative. Who can help you to make this case?
- Organizational allies
- Parents—including PTAs and PTOs
- Other invested members of your broader community—domestic and sexual violence prevention programs, members of your domestic violence task force, etc.
4. Make your case
- Schedule a meeting with key organizational decision makers
- Use information from your environmental scan to tailor your discussion of the problem and solutions to your organization
Standing 4 Respect in Youth Service Organizations
When we think about a social problem, the policies and practices in place in our organizations may not be our first thought. But organizational policies formally articulate our standards, and as such, they are a critical building block of a healthy organizational climate. This matters. Because teens spend most of their time in organizations (youth groups, sports teams camps, Boys and Girls Clubs, 4-H, etc.), and because they are the spaces where youth interact, teen dating abuse happens there. By preventing abuse within youth serving organizations, AND by creating broad buy-in for healthy relationships in those settings, we will reduce the prevalence of this social problem among teens.
By implementing healthy relationship policies we are clearly establishing behavioral expectations; by sharing the policy with constituents—youth, parents and staff—we add a broad, collaborative base of support for those expectations; and by acting on the policy when we see problematic behaviors, we are reinforcing respectful relationships as an organizational norm. Because teens spend so much of their time in organizations, it is reasonable to believe that the norms established there will also strongly influence their thinking and behavior outside of those settings.
As you think about creating organizational policies, it might work best to start by noticing what’s going on with youth in your organization. Here are some questions to think about, and to discuss with staff, volunteers, youth and parents.
|Questions about youth members’ experiences||Questions about staff and volunteers’ experiences|
|· What behaviors among your members concern you?
· What great behaviors and relationship strengths do you see?
|Do members of staff consistently model respectful behaviors in their interactions with youth, parents and other staff members?|
|Do youth within your agency respect one another’s physical boundaries?
· When young people have physical contact, does it appear to be in the context of mutual comfort and affection?
|Do members of staff typically intervene in response to derogatory language or harassment?
· Do most staff members and volunteers know how the program expects them to intervene?
|What kind of language is used about physical appearance, abilities, gender and sexuality?||Where do members of staff have opportunities to introduce conversations about respectful relationships?|
|Would youth know how or to whom they should report experience of abuse?||Do staff members know your procedures for responding to a report of abuse?|
One important note to consider as you develop an organizational policy is that taking a stand against abusive and harassing behaviors doesn’t mean taking a stand against flirting. To an observer, flirting would appear to be mutual and fun; harassment would appear to be one-sided, demeaning and aggressive. Check the body language of the participants, does the exchange appear to be open and equal, or does one person appear to be controlling the situation? Not knowing merits asking. Asking will help to clarify what’s going on, to diffuse the situation if it is an abusive one, and to model that in your organization, when you aren’t sure about the impact of a behavior, you ask!
By consistently checking in to promote the great relationship behaviors that we want to see, and by calling out abuse and harassment, we can make respectful behavior the expected and easy choice in youth service organizations.
Together, we can end domestic violence.
We believe that violence is preventable. When we come together, we create real change in the lives of individuals and in our communities. Join us in the movement to make Indiana a state that is safe, inclusive, and equitable for everyone.