Making a Difference

Guest Blogger: Meng Lo, Teen Prevention Advocate,  Harrington House


Ever since I started working at the Harrington House, in Crescent City, CA, some of my friends and family members have told me that this job changed me. What I keep telling them is: the job didn't make me, but I was made to do this job. No matter where I move, this place will always be home. My mother always told me to “leave things better then you found them." Del Norte County ranks number 1 out of the 58 counties in California for domestic violence per capita and has more than eight times the statewide rate. Someday when I do leave, I want to leave it better then I found it. I want to make a difference, bring about change and somehow break the cycle of violence. And I know that change starts with knowledge.

I was able to obtain a small grant from Building Healthy Communities to engage men and boys to end domestic violence. With a good number of Hmong people living here in Del Norte County, I saw this as a great opportunity to light two candles with one flame. You see, domestic violence isn't something that is taught in the Hmong community. Young Hmong men and women were raised to embrace that domestic violence can happen and it will happen--but there’s nothing you can do about it.

As a young Hmong-American man, I remember the struggle of walking in two worlds. I remember asking myself at a very young age, “How am I ever going to find a balance or a middle ground between what I was taught at school (the western world) and the Hmong way of life? How can I be traditional and be successful at the same time?” With the Building Healthy Communities Grant Award, I plan to help Hmong men and boys find that middle ground of walking in two worlds; and I will be educating them on different views and values men and women have of domestic violence. Hopefully, in the process, I will change views that there’s nothing they can do about domestic violence within their culture.

Change is hard. Sometimes it feels like forever for change to happen; but if we start now, it will come sooner than later. Let’s start with awareness, so we build better communities, so we can create brighter futures for the next generation. My biggest goal in life is to inspire and motivate especially our youth, so they can be the best people they can be. We all work in a field that doesn’t just give second chances, but fourth and fifth chances. A quote I like to live by is from Steve Harvey: “Failure is a great teacher, and I think when you make mistakes and you recover from them and you treat them as valuable learning experiences, then you’ve got something to share.”  

About the Author: 

I am the Teen Prevention Advocate at the Harrington House a domestic violence shelter, a non-profit organization within Rural Human Services in Del Norte County. We only have about 6,000 people in the Crescent City, but I've been told that there is more domestic violence per capita than Los Angeles.

I was born and raised here in Crescent City and I want to make a difference in my community. Me, myself, I'm an actor, singer and an entertainer. The biggest thing I want to do is inspire and motivate people to chase their dreams and be the best person they can be. Someday when I make it big and make a good income, I want to start a nonprofit organization to give grants to individuals that are good at their craft, no matter what it maybe.

I took a break in my chosen career path to help bring awareness to domestic violence, because knowing is the key to change.

Let's Talk about Red Flags


Working with adolescents calls upon a different skill set then some advocates use every day. When we are addressing adolescent dating abuse we need to change the language and understanding of what is happening within the relationship. Adolescent dating abuse is different than abuse in adult relationships.

We need to trust that young people are the experts in their own lives. Unfortunately some studies reveal that adolescent boys and girls use abusive tactics at high rates within their relationships. Not all of these incidents are equal or even part of a pattern of coercive power and control but we need to be talking about this. While abuse in adolescent relationships is serious, sometimes (not always) it is about a lack of healthy relationship skills. We need to trust their power to change the course of their relationships. Interventions into adolescent relationship abuse need to focus on the development of communication and healthy relationships skills. We need to incorporate discussions of gender equity and gender norms as the foundation of our healthy relationship curriculum.

Generally, discussions on healthy relationships and adolescent dating abuse include providing education on relationship red flags. Unfortunately when I was in the role of educating about adolescent dating abuse I learned a lot through trial and error. When I presented on red flags, I made the mistake simply telling the group a list of red flags. I think my exact words were “these are red flags in relationships” and I listed things like “your partner is constantly texting you”, “jealousy” and “isolates you from friends and family”. As I was presenting the list of red flags I could see half the room quit listening and some openly disagreed with my list of red flags. From this experience I learned how it important it is to facilitate a conversation about red flags. For example, when talking about constantly texting for many young people that is not always a red flag it’s the reality of using technology today. I learned how it important it is to learn from young people about what they would identify as a red flag, where their boundaries are and who they can reach out to for help. I would use questions such as these:

  • What is a behavior that concerns you in a relationship?
  • What does it mean when we see red flags in a relationship?
  • Where are your boundaries in a relationship?
  • Who can reach out to for support?
Once I stopped trying to be the expert and learned to facilitate conversations on red flags and boundaries, I found I was much more effective in conveying the importance of healthy relationships skills. Love is Respect offers many resources for adolescent relationships but one of my favorites is the Relationship Spectrum. There are many ways to start a conversation with young people about relationships but it is important that we, as the adults, are starting those conversations.

Healthy Relationships: A Pathway to Transformative Intersections

Guest Blogger: Emily Austin, Director of Policy and Evaluation, Peace Over Violence


   
At our Stand With Me Youth Summit last Wednesday, 150 adults and students came together to have critical conversations about how to create safe and affirming schools.  This Summit came about after attending Futures Without Violence's Someone Stood Up For Me Summit in May 2014.  After that event, we wanted to keep the ideas and connection going—so the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, Los Angeles Unified School District, Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles, Peace Over Violence, Joe Torre Safe At Home Foundation, Coalition for Healthy Teen Relationships, and other community partners came together to bring a similar experience to Los Angeles.  Our Summit highlighted the need we all have to connect and build community around healthy relationships.  What was amazing about the day was the synergy and agreement that we need to do more of this—we need to take more action to connect our issues of teen dating violence, bullying, community and gang violence, sexual assault, and the school to prison pipeline to each other, and we have to commit to connecting with youth.

We rarely create those places to share ideas, experiences and struggles, even though the idea of healthy relationships connects gender, class, race—and it allows us to make space for all of those intersections.  It allows us to talk about the relationship between intimate partners, friends, parents, and community members.  And it urges us to see the whole person, not a problem to be solved or a barrier—but a person with basic needs to connect, love, and be loved.

Youth and adults care about having better, healthier relationships.  We saw at the Summit, that our community is ready to engage in intergenerational problem-solving for this unifying goal.  During our Community Trust panel we witnessed youth leaders and the Chief of Los Angeles School Police see each other and listen to each other.  During a discussion on policy change, we heard the City Attorney voice the need for prevention, not just prosecution.  And at the end of the day, youth who have survived and thrived after violence, shared their road to empowerment and voice.  All these stories and moments highlight the need to push and pull our prevention work into the myriad concerns our youth and communities face today.

I know that our strength is in the intersections and the collaborations—not just youth, not just parents, not just community members, not just advocates, not just the government officials.  Our power comes from our relationships, our connections, our histories, our experiences.  And our ability to shift and change social norms comes from the intersections and the aligned momentum of all these critical players.   During the Summit, we asked our youth and adult stakeholders to #MakeAChoice 2 #StandWithMe2015: they filled out pledge cards, took pictures with signs, and let us know how they want to continue this work.  They demonstrated accountability and solidarity to turn these ideas into action.  And we are committed to helping them do that hard, rewarding work. 

All day long, from various lens, we learned about the struggles and solutions for healthier relationships throughout LA.  There is amazing work being done already, and now we are that much closer to standing together for change.  Now we need to build, create, and nurture more places where the interconnections can be explored, and where all voices are heard.  We cannot do this work alone, and this work will not last if we do it alone.  We need to engage different sides to have the hard conversations and the solutions-focused conversations.  Because really how can we promote healthy relationships without living that reality of connecting, communicating, compromising, and caring in our movement?  Let’s walk our talk together, towards a meaningful future that recognizes that teen dating violence does not occur in a vacuum—it occurs in our homes, schools, and communities.  It occurs in relationship to community and gang violence, disempowered youth, racism, over-policing/under-supervision, parenting, school cutbacks, social media, global unrest, and human heartbreak.  The promise is in recognizing the connections, and the opportunity is to nurture healthy relationships.

#MakeAChoice 2 #StandWithMe2015

About the Author:
Emily Austin is the Director of Policy and Evaluation at Peace Over Violence, a non-profit domestic violence and sexual assault intervention and prevention organization.  Ms. Austin graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles with a BA in Women’s Studies and English. She received her law degree from USC Gould School of Law.  Emily was an Audrey and Sydney Irmas Fellow at the California Women’s Law Center, where she focused on dating violence and the educational system’s response.  Since joining Peace Over Violence in 2008, Emily has co-authored several curricula and white papers, and helped organize the Violence-Free Teens Conference.  She also has worked to develop and form the Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Advisory Council, Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Advisory Council, a multi-disciplinary community council working to prevent child sexual abuse in Los Angeles County.  The Council developed a report on child sexual abuse, Stories of Strength, and hosted many community-based Days of Dialogue on child sexual abuse prevention and sexual exploitation of children.  She is the mother of three children (Story, Atlas, and Lyric) and lives in West Hills California with her husband, children, dog, rabbit, and two frogs. 

Promoting Healthy Teen Relationships: Mariposa’s Approach

Guest Blogger: Audrey Davis, Prevention Specialist at Mountain Crisis Services - a Program of the Alliance for Community Transformations





In 2013, as part of a DELTA FOCUS grant, the Alliance for Community Transformations began an effort to engage the community of Mariposa, CA, and specifically the Mariposa County Unified School District in promoting healthy teen relationships and preventing dating abuse. Our organization, which includes two DV/SA programs, a youth drop-in center, a foster youth advocacy program, a recovery program, and a re-entry program is embracing the challenge of addressing all levels of the social ecology in order to prevent intimate partner violence. Our ultimate goal is to increase the amount of partners and champions within the education system who support a number of dating abuse prevention methods.

We are currently employing three strategies to accomplish our goal: informing school district policy related to dating abuse; communicating strategically about the issue of dating abuse prevention; and mobilizing the community to address dating abuse and community and social change. We have been accomplishing a wide range of activities related to these strategies so far. In the past couple of years we have been organizing a sub-committee of Alliance staff and community partners to develop dating abuse policy guidelines for the Mariposa County Unified School District, providing violence prevention based trainings and presentations for school district staff, sponsoring youth centered events in honor of Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, and creating new narratives, frames and messages that promote healthy relationships. The strategic messages will be targeted to our primary audience, decision-makers within the education system in Mariposa County, but will also be intended for community partners, parents and caregivers, and youth.

While we expect to be successful in meeting our goals, there are numerous difficulties. While social change does happen, it is a gradual process. Influential people have limited time, and there is a lack of understanding and awareness of the issue of intimate partner violence and specifically dating violence. Yet we are fortunate that a significant number of people in our community believe that through cross-sector partnerships, dating violence prevention can be achieved. An important partnership, therefore, is the school district in our community. We are fortunate again that the school district wants continue to collaborate in order to maintain schools that have a safe and positive climate. It is our belief that supporting our schools in their quest for such a beneficial climate will emphasize the important role they play in promoting healthy teen relationships and preventing dating abuse.

About the Author:
Audrey Davis is the Prevention Specialist at Mountain Crisis Services, a program of the Alliance for Community Transformations in Mariposa, CA. 



When I Needed Support as a Teen, One Adult Could have Made a Difference

Guest Blogger: Alison M. Chopel, Director of California Adolescent Health Collaborative



Adolescent Relationship Abuse (ARA) impacts at least one in five adolescents in the United States every day. This is a public health problem, this is everybody’s problem. Besides the obvious ways that abuse impacts one’s health (increasing risk for mental illness and intentional injury), relationship abuse affects sexual and reproductive health, substance abuse disorders, and even risk of physical chronic diseases through toxic stress. This sounds like bad news, but the good news is that this is a problem that we can do something about. Doesn’t that feel empowering?

Even just speaking to young people about their relationships, as simple as it seems, can be an effective intervention. The CA Adolescent Health Collaborative, Futures Without Violence, the CA School Based Health Alliance, and Dr. Liz Miller at the University of Pittsburgh evaluated an intervention to address ARA through School Health Centers (the School Health Center Healthy Adolescent Relationships Project, SHARP) and found that it works to reduce ARA victimization, and increase knowledge and use of resources by youth. The intervention included a youth-led awareness campaign, and trained providers to talk with all their clients about their relationships, using a palm-sized brochure as an aid.

I can attest to the power of conversation on relationship abuse cycles, especially during that vulnerable developmental stage called adolescence when we have so little experience and feel like we know so much. My first love relationship was abusive and coercive, and as an adolescent I found myself stuck in the cycle of violence without really recognizing it for what it was. I didn’t have any examples of healthy relationships from childhood to draw upon, so I could tell myself this is just what it’s like. But there was a part of me that knew, or suspected, that my relationship was abusive and unhealthy. I was looking for that to be validated outside of myself, trying to check my na├»ve information with the outside world. When I confided in my friend about the minor physical violence, extreme emotional violence, threats and coercion I was experiencing, her response was, “If he was with me, none of that stuff would be happening.” That response reverberated in my head and came out as the conclusion that the problem is with me, so I should just try harder and I could make this work. I decided not to discuss it with others because I didn’t want to reveal that I was failing, somehow, at making myself unabusable.

I’m 99.9% sure that if an adult had told me that the behaviors were unhealthy and that there was support I could access if I wanted to leave, I would have suffered less. Even if my friend had been asked about relationships by a trusted adult, and had the opportunity to learn to differentiate healthy and unhealthy relationship behaviors, perhaps she would have been equipped to change the course of my life through that conversation. I can imagine, that if our school had had an intervention like SHARP, she might have said something like, “Oh, Ali, that’s not right. No one should treat you like that, especially someone who says they love you. You know, maybe you can talk to Dr. So-and-so at the health center. S/he was telling me that there are people who can help if that kinda stuff is happening in your relationship.” I don’t resent my friend or regret my life experiences, but I do know that my health and wellbeing was negatively impacted by ARA, and I do know that there is a tried and true way that we can help to reduce ARA victimization experienced by young people today and in the future. That makes me feel empowered in a way that overshadows the residual feelings of powerlessness that permeated my life at that time.

About the Author: 
Alison M. Chopel, MPH, DrPH, has been working with youth for over a decade, both in the US and abroad. In addition to her passion for adolescent health, she brings skills and knowledge in participatory research, social epidemiology, and youth leadership development to the Collaborative. Alison's passion for enabling young people to fulfill their potential stems from her own experiences with abuse, homelessness, and pregnancy in her youth. Thanks to a caring and supportive mentor, she overcame her earlier challenges, pursued a career in youth development, and is now working towards providing all youth with the opportunity to thrive. 

Respect Week

It’s Respect Week! There are many ways to participate in Teen DV Month this week! Start the week by wearing orange on Tuesday February 10th but don’t just wear orange, talk with people about why it is important to support healthy adolescent relationships. Post a picture of orange day and use the hash tag: #CAturnsorange.


You can also participate in the thunderclap from Break the Cycle on Feb. 13. A thunderclap is one message that will be sent out among all the participants’ social media at the designated time. It is a “flash mob-style” way to communicate on an issue. This is a great way to help amplify the message about Teen DV Month.

How do we incorporate “respect” into our prevention work? Many organization build prevention programs that incorporate youth leadership as integral in the development and implementation of the programs. There are many great examples of youth leadership within domestic violence organizations, which include Peace Over Violence and the Northwest Network of Bi, Trans, Lesbian, and Gay Survivors of Abuse. Utilizing youth leaders offers many benefits in prevention work. There are benefits to the youth leaders, increased knowledge and skills, and benefits to the program, increased prevention capacity and powerful solutions that will resonate with the target audience. An additional benefit of youth leadership in our prevention work is that it is the embodiment of respect. When youth voices are not just included but central to the development and implementation of youth programs, organizations can demonstrate respect for the experiences of young people and programs will address the true experiences of young people not just the adult perceptions of those experiences. One the most significant benefits of integrating youth leaders into our work is that we are developing new leaders for the movement to end intimate partner violence. Strong movements need a diversity of voices and sustainable leadership.

Many programs in California have strong, well-developed youth leadership or youth advisory groups while some programs have not had the opportunity to involve youth leaders in their work. One of the first steps may be having a conversation with young people about the movement to end intimate partner violence. The Teen DV Month campaign from the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, Our Gender Revolution, includes Our Gender Revolution Conversation Guide. From the guide:

“The purpose of this conversation is to connect and mobilize teens in creating compassionate communities where violence is no longer a common occurrence. Young people are the present and the future of our communities. Their attitudes and behaviors will shape future generations. Many youth are passionate about making the world a better place.”
Another great resource to start thinking about youth leaders or to share the amazing work your organization is already doing is the #Youthleaders Twitter Chat facilitated by VAWnet. The #Youthleaders TwitterChat is on February 10th at 4:30pm Pacific Time. The Northwest Network is also hosting a Twitter Chat on Februay 23rd from 3pm-4:30pm, you can learn more about their Twitter Chat on their Facebook page. Youth leadership provides a wealth of opportunities for new learning and unexplored possibilities (for organizations). I am excited to learn more about the youth leadership happening throughout California, please consider participating in the Twitter chats happening throughout the month. 



How a High School Basketball Game Can Help Address Dating Violence

Guest Blogger: Nilda Valmores, Executive Director of My Sister's House



Above Kennedy Varsity team members warming up in purple, "the color for domestic violence awareness."  Both school teams, all levels, and audience wore purple, as well as Kennedy Varsity coaches.  Thanks to Soroptimists Int'l of Sacramento for co-sponsoring the event and Kennedy JV Coach Russell Fong helping arrange it. This was the first such game in Sacramento, and perhaps in the state too!

Much thanks to Kennedy High School Girls Basketball Team for drawing attention to Healthy Teen Dating in their game against Pleasant Grove (Elk Grove). 























It started with a teenage daughter (okay, mine).

I went to one of her women’s high school basketball games in February and I noticed the other team was dressed in pink, which was not their school color. I, of course asked why at the concession stand, as I’m sure others did and was told it was to support the fight against breast cancer. Then an announcement was made during the game too.

Well pink isn’t my color but fighting breast cancer is a great cause. And I thought do they (the high school players) wear purple to fight domestic violence too? Do they even know about teenage dating violence awareness month which also occurs during basketball season? Unfortunately, I know odds are my daughter is more likely to experience domestic violence before she would experience breast cancer.

I went to my daughter’s coach and said, “Hey, can we do something?” He didn’t mind, but his higher ups did, even if it did come from the team mother and the mother of one of the star basketball players. Like a good advocate however, I went to another school. This time the coach said “Great idea.  Let’s pick a date.” 

The coach worked with the opposing high school coach’s team and they both told their players of each of their teams (freshman, JV, and varsity) about the game, the cause, and the significance. In other words, at least 30 high school girls from each school were engaged in talking about the issue of teen dating violence. One year, one of the teams wore purple socks and purple hair ribbons. Another year one of the teams tie-dyed purple shirts. 

My Sister’s House designed the flier which including teen dating violence statistics. The coaches had their players post their fliers around the high schools. This meant that the friends of the 30 high school players were asked to dress in purple too, along with their parents and relatives that came to the game.  Of course, this was “as easy shot” to do with Facebook posts and Tweets.

Outside the game, My Sister’s House hosted an info table. We had players, the players’ siblings, the public, and even campus security stop by the info table. We heard comments about how young people have experienced dating violence and/or been trafficked locally. And one of the local media stations featured the game. 

Overall, this was one of the easiest and most fun public education efforts we’ve done. The cost was zero for our organization.  (There was an admission charge but it was the normal, nominal game charge and went to the school.)  

We’re participating in our “Healthy Hoops” game again this year. After all, why pass on a winning game strategy, especially when it empowers teenage girls?

About the Author: 

Nilda Valmores has had the honor of leading My Sister’s House, the Central Valley’s only shelter for battered Asian / Pacific Islander women and children since September 2004. 

In Nilda's free time she annoys her son and daughter who now are attending college.  Her daughter was once a high school basketball star who helped her team win their league and section championship.  

Teen DV Month 2015

February is the start of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. There are many great activities and social media campaigns that are happening throughout the month. I am very excited about the Partnership’s campaign :) #relationshipsfeel. Each week will be a different theme around healthy relationships.


Teen DV Month has been gaining more attention in past few years. I love that it not only focuses on bringing attention to the issue of adolescent dating abuse and services domestic violence organizations offer, Teen DV Month campaigns incorporation significant messages about prevention and healthy relationships. Everyone can participate in Teen DV Month activities:

You can start your prevention work by promoting the Partnership’s Teen DV Month Campaign!

The theme for week 1 is :) #relationshipsfeel supportive. I think every person can list examples of what it means to support their partner but the question we should be asking ourselves is how can we support adolescents to be in healthy relationships? We have numerous resources to help us respond when we see red flags but how do we respond when we see good things happening in a relationship?

Being supportive of healthy adolescent relationships is not simply teaching young people about the red flags, it is about going beyond that to celebrate and uplift the healthy and strong relationships that are being developed. What would it look like for schools to be supportive of healthy adolescent relationships? How can domestic violence organizations support healthy adolescent relationships?

There are many ways schools and domestic violence organizations can be supportive of healthy adolescent relationships. I think that a great start to being supportive is to listen and take seriously the experiences of adolescents. As adults we can be quick to dismiss adolescent relationships as not being serious or “real” relationships, especially when adolescents don’t always use the terms we use (dating vs. hanging out or hooking up).When we take relationships seriously we can be in the role of supporting the healthy skills being developed. Adolescent dating relationships are important. We know that abusive relationships impact student learning and future relationships. When schools take adolescent dating relationships seriously they are more likely to recognize the need for schools to take an active role in supporting healthy relationships. The foundation of supporting healthy adolescent relationships needs to begin with the recognition of the importance of adolescent relationships.

2015 New Year’s Resolution Challenge: Make Prevention a Priority

What are your New Year’s Resolutions? As we enter 2015 challenge yourself to add one more resolution to the list: Make intimate partner violence prevention a priority. You don’t need to be the prevention advocate or even work in the domestic violence field to work toward the prevention of intimate partner violence. The idea of preventing intimate partner violence can be overwhelming but we CAN make a difference. We can challenge the social norms that foster violence, we can support healthy relationships and we can be a role model for young people.

Talking with young people about healthy relationships is important but conversations are not enough. Adults need to model healthy relationship for young people. We need to ask: Are we modeling healthy relationship skills for the young people in our lives? Click here for information from The National Domestic Violence Hotline on healthy relationships. Anyone can make intimate partner violence a priority by taking the steps to role model healthy relationships. 

Even adults can struggle with healthy relationships. It takes work and skill development to create a healthy relationship. You do not need all the answers to model healthy behavior. In fact, it’s ok to be honest about the challenges. Healthy relationships do not magically happen, they take work. We need to show the young people in our lives the work it takes to create a healthy relationship. We all feel jealousy at times but that doesn't mean we can look through our partner’s phone or stop them from participating in activities.

Start your 2015 Prevention Resolution by asking yourself:
  • What are your best relationship skills?
  • What relationship skills are you still developing?
  • How do you talk about your partner and your relationship with young people?
  • Are you showing the young people in your life about how to create a healthy relationship?
As you explore your relationship and ability to model healthy relationships, check out Stand 4 Respect. Stand 4 Respect is a website from the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence in collaboration with their Youth Council. This website offers great information and tools for engaging young people and adults to promote healthy relationships and prevent dating violence.


The challenge is on: how are you making prevention a priority in 2015?

New Laws Relevant to School-Based Dating Abuse Prevention

Are you ready for 2015? While you may not be ready to ring in the New Year, you can be prepared for a new year of prevention work! Click here for the Partnership’s fact sheet on new laws relevant to school-based abuse prevention.