The month of February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (TDVAM), a movement to help raise awareness about teen dating violence. Abuse in teen relationships is a national problem affecting our youth in every community crossing all racial, gender and socioeconomic backgrounds; see http://www.loveisrespect.org. Dating violence is more common than people think. One in three adolescents in the U.S. will experience physical, sexual or emotional abuse by someone they are in a relationship with before they become adults, a figure that far exceeds rates of other types of youth violence; see http://www.loveisrespect.org/resources/dating-violence-statistics/.

Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” “Prevention education is important in order to prepare children for healthy, safe, dating relationships,” says Juan Lopez, Director of Prevention Education at Empower Yolo.  “By teaching our youth healthy relationships as a norm, we teach them not to settle for anything less than respect. Rather than focusing on intervention tactics after they have already been involved in abusive relationships, we spend multiple weeks with groups of teens building solid mentor relationships; we invite them to listen to our lessons, and ask questions that they might not feel comfortable asking elsewhere. Regardless of what they might see modeled in the relationships around them, our prevention education programs inform them about healthy as well as unhealthy relationships so that they have safe alternatives,” says Lopez.

Empower Yolo’s prevention groups in Yolo County schools continue to run strong. In the 2018-2019 school year we ran groups and presentations at Woodland High, Pioneer High, Emerson Jr. High, Holmes Jr. High, DaVinci High, and River City High School. Woodland High has a “My Strength” and a “Be Strong” group; Pioneer has an “Our Strength” group; and both receive one-day presentations for all freshmen health classes. In the 2018-2019 school year the prevention team made 182 presentations for 2,488 students.

This year’s goals are to expand the curriculum to include various forms of oppression, and to provide prevention education presentations at more schools in the county.

Starting this 2019-2020 school year the prevention education team expanded its curriculum to include a new social justice aspect of prevention. Discussions will focus on the intersectionality between different types of violence our youth are experiencing such as racial violence, environmental violence, and homophobia. “It’s important that our youth have the opportunity to not only have conversations about issues as important as healthy relationships, but also discuss ways that they can try to improve their own community and create a healthier environment for everyone that promotes equal human rights, inclusivity, acceptance, accountability, and love,” says Gaby Guzman Volunteer & Community Education Coordinator at Empower Yolo.

Students in our programs are already working on projects focused on social justice in prevention education. “We have students in our programs proposing projects and workshops to the community that will bring awareness not only about gendered violence, but how women of color and specifically women in the LGTBQIA community are often more at risk,” says Guzman.

Other students notice that their schools need more funding for mental health support. These students have proposed to create a wellness center at their school that could be run by the students in order to close the disparity gap of those receiving mental health services. “In both of these projects and in future projects, the goal is to have students become aware of an issue/problem in their community/environment, recognize “we need to change things,” and try and do something about it,” says Guzman.

Empower Yolo’s prevention team is really excited to see where this new curriculum and these new projects will go, and they are hopeful these students can really make an impact in Yolo County.

The community’s participation in TDVAM is really important. “Currently in Yolo County teen dating violence and unhealthy relationships is still affecting hundreds of youth in our community. Being able to create a community that respects consent, that values healthy relationships and boundaries, really begins with our youth,” says Guzman.

To help raise awareness during TDVAM in February please support our efforts in the following ways: 1) donate at empoweryolo.org to our prevention education programs which are largely unfunded; 2) please shop at Davis Food Co-op this month and ‘Round up at the Registers’ for Empower Yolo; proceeds will help fund Empower Yolo programs including prevention education programs; 3) become a volunteer to facilitate prevention groups by attending our spring peer counseling training; applications will be available soon at empoweryolo.org; 4) wear orange on Tuesday, February 11 in support of #Orange4Love Day to raise awareness about teen dating abuse; 5) become a sponsor for TDVAM for next year to help us reach even more youths. This year our prevention education and After School Safety and Enrichment for Teens (ASSETs) students will be participating in an art contest and an Instagram challenge to show their support of healthy relationships and TDVAM. Follow their efforts on Facebook at @empoweryolo and on Instagram @empower_yolo.

Thank you to Davis Food Co-op and Alpha Chi Omega at UC Davis for sponsoring TDVAM and supporting Empower Yolo’s prevention education programs.

For questions about teen dating violence or prevention education please contact Juan Lopez at [email protected], or Gaby Guzman at [email protected] “Violence in any community continues when the key issues are not addressed or seen as a problem. When we don’t speak out and don’t get involved with important discussions around teen dating violence as a community, what we are essentially saying is we don’t want to talk about it, we don’t want to acknowledge who’s being affected by it, and we don’t need to talk about solutions. The community being involved with TDVAM demonstrates the efforts of anti-violence and anti-teen dating violence, but also demonstrate to the youth they are being heard, supported and empowered by their fellow community members,” says Guzman.

To learn more about Empower Yolo, prevention education, teen dating violence, or to donate go to empoweryolo.org.

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