YOUth Using Their Voice to End Dating Violence

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by Rona Amiri, BWSS YOUth Ending Violence Consultant

So far, 2013 has been an incredible year for violence prevention! We have facilitated workshops to over 1,400 youth throughout the Greater Vancouver area. We have facilitated workshops in Vancouver, Burnaby, Langley, Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Richmond, and Surrey. We have reached hundreds of youth from both high schools and community organizations. We have facilitated workshops for Indigenous youth groups and Newcomer/Immigrant youth groups.  This has been possible thanks to some amazing young women and men who volunteer as facilitators and are passionate about ending dating violence!

Early this year we trained a new group of youth facilitators. Our Executive Director, Angela Marie MacDougall, facilitated training with support from youth consultants, Rona Amiri and Tijash Ramirez. During the 5 days of training the new volunteers expanded their knowledge of gender violence and looked specifically at youth dating violence. They also gained presentation, facilitation, and leadership skills.

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Youth facilitators during 2013 training

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Tijash, Isaac, and Khisrow during training

Youth have responded incredibly intelligently and thoughtfully when discussing gender violence. When presented with the facts they become more engaged and want to learn more about what they can do to make a difference.

Not all youth agree with everything we say during the workshop; however, they are respectful in their inquiries and challenges. It is great when youth ask questions or are critical of the information we provide because at least they are being honest. That honesty opens up the space for youth to really talk about dating violence in ways they never had the opportunity. Our facilitators provide the information, facts, and statistics around dating violence and help create a safe space for youth to discuss the issue.

A common misconception is that youth who are part of alternative school programs are ‘bad’ and don’t care about issues of violence and create a lot of violence. However, through our workshops we have seen youth in alternative programs be just as thoughtful if not more. Many of them understand the cycles of violence because of lived experiences and are just as passionate, if not more, about ending violence. We have had some amazing conversations with youth from alternative programs at North Surrey Secondary and Whyte Cliff Agile learning center in Burnaby.

We have also had the opportunity to facilitate workshops for young women who are part of after school groups or in community youth groups. These young women in the workshops were critical of a culture that continuously puts the responsibility on girls and women to ensure their safety instead of teaching boys and men to be respectful of girls and women. They thanked us for creating a safe space to discuss these issues that they have thought of before but never really spoke about. It is unbelievably humbling to be thanked for facilitating a workshop especially when we feel just as thankful to them for sharing their thoughts and being able to learn from them.

One thing that set apart our workshops is the focus we have on ending the violence. While we do share information about dating violence, our main goal is to support youth in feeling empowered to stand up against sexist and abusive behaviors. We discuss how we can support our peers who may be experiencing dating violence, how we can stop street harassment, and how we can be empowered bystanders to interrupt violence when we see it happening.

Here are a few quotes from youth in workshops as well as from our evaluations:

“The presentation will help reduce/prevent abuse when I am in a relationship to know my rights as a woman”

“I would be able to know what to do if my friends or myself encounter this situation”

“The presentation made me feel that it is my right to stand up for myself if something is wrong in my relationship”

“It gave me a lot of info on how to be a good boyfriend”

“Manhood is not all about being strong and tough”

“What I learned from the presentation is that there is more to abuse than physical violence”

“Presentation was good and provided a lot of examples to help us better understand dating violence”

“Really great presentation, I liked the videos”

“I learned about alcohol and consent”

“I learned how to be an empowered bystander:  thank you!!”

We have seen youth own their role in ending violence because they now have the tools to be empowered to stop and intervene when witnessing abusive or sexist behaviour and they have resources to support their peers who may be in a violent dating relationship.

For more information on YOUth Ending Violence prevention workshops email yev@bwss.org and/or visit here.

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