Youth Taking Action to End Violence Against Girls and Women


By Angela Marie MacDougall

Battered Women’s Support Services has delivered youth prevention programming since the late 1980’s. Our program has always included multi media components and discussion within mixed gender and single gender youth environments, primarily within the school system, (conventional, alternative and private) to youth in grades 8-12, primarily 10-12 and on relatively rare occasions grades 6 and 7. Working with school counsellors, school administrators and youth workers, we consistently provided education workshops to the tune of over 1,600 sessions over the past 20 or so years. Our program called Dating Violence Education Programconsisted of three streams:

  1. violence in dating relationships in mixed gender settings
  2. healthy relationships in single (girls/women only) and mixed gender settings and
  3. Dating Violence awareness for girls and young women.

Routinely, during the workshop sessions, our facilitators would respond to young women who were currently being abused in their dating or intimate relationship, as well as, to young women and men who were living in homes where they were witnessing their father or father figure abusing their mother. As a service provider we would respond to the needs of the young people through direct intervention and/or proactive referrals to other appropriate resources. The work with youth is not only about prevention it is always about intervention too.

As demand for our direct services increased in 2005, by 2007 and without funding, we were forced to scale back our Dating Violence Prevention Programto focus our efforts on providing crisis intervention and counselling to young women/women living with violence. We took the opportunity to reflect on our program and we held a series of focus groups with young women and men evaluating our current program and what works in prevention programming, while we continued to seek funders for the program. Repeatedly, our applications were denied funding. Until 2010, when we received $50,000 from Vancouver Foundation to deliver our reconceived Youth Engagement in Violence Prevention Program.



The key components of the new program involve:

  1. Reviewing our past successful curriculum to update our curricula infusing youth knowledge and experiences
  2. Convening a mixed gender youth advisory council consisting of youth and adults who have experience working with youth and/or violence in intimate youth relationships
  3. Training mixed gender youth violence prevention facilitators to deliver violence prevention education to youth
  4. Delivering 40 workshops in the BC region, primarily Metro Vancouver secondary schools (conventional, alternative and private)and youth organizations
  5. Critical components for young women dealing with violence in their relationships and we will provide crisis intervention support, as well as, critical support for young men and women who are witnessing their mother’s abuse in their family home
  6. Additionally, our education will contain “bystander education” components

All our work is grounded in an anti-colonial-oppression feminist analysis of violence against girls and women, this analysis is based on social theories that we believe most accurately understand and describe the reasons for violence against girls and women and the formation of masculinity and femininity within contemporary Canada.

Many violence prevention programs, we have observed, deliver workshops with a social and gender neutral framework and are highly individual in focus. In the absence of a clear theoretical framework and an emphasis on the individual outside of a social context means all intervention and prevention initiatives are, in effect, being fired at a moving target, and frankly, missing the mark. We are clear that violence against girls and women is about the individuals who exist within a historical, legal and social framework that stratifies people, limits access to power and influence, and at the heart of it all is power and control. Our model of change means we are working with the individual, with relationships, with community and with society. We engage youth through good old fashioned 21st century consciousness raising.


(Right) Chuck D, Byron Hurt (seated) Sara Kendall


Bystander Education in Violence Prevention

The “bystander” method has achieved acclaim as an innovation in addressing violence against girls and women. Bystander education focuses on young men not as perpetrators or potential perpetrators, but as empowered bystanders who can confront abusive male peers – and support girls and women who are subject to the violence. It focuses on young women not as victims or potential targets of harassment, rape and abuse, but as empowered bystanders who can support abused peers – and confront abusive ones. In this model, a “bystander” is defined as all of us who come across instances where girls and women are dealing with violence and abuse.

Bystander education asserts that many people mistakenly believe that they have only two options in instances of actual or potential violence: intervene physically and possibly expose themselves to personal harm, or do nothing. As a result, they often choose to do nothing.

Interventions utilizing the bystander approach provide individuals with practical ways to combat violence against girls and women in their everyday lives, including techniques for interrupting situations that could lead to violence, speaking out against social norms that promote gender disparity and violence, and acting as effective “allies” for victims/survivors of violence If done well, the bystander approach further stresses each individual role within their community and asks participants to make a commitment to take on greater social change through their actions. This approach stresses the role of individuals and groups in the broader community and in creating social change. In this way, violence prevention is conceived of as part of a movement for broader change, with students directly responsible for addressing gender stereotyping and violence in their communities. Training responds from the perspective that:

  1. bystanders must be aware that a problem exists and recognize that the problem has a negative consequence for victims.
  2. bystanders are more likely to act if they have made a commitment to intervene and, therefore, see themselves as partially responsible for solving the problem.
  3. bystanders will be more likely to get involved if they do not see the victim as somehow responsible for the incident and
  4. bystanders must have a model of behaviour for how to intervene and feel that they have the skills to do so.

While research has been undertaken to explain when bystanders are more likely to intervene, little research has been conducted testing the efficacy of programs designed to teach participants how to become empowered bystanders. Those programs that have been subjected to evaluation tend to focus on interventions designed for men only and have found programs generally effective anecdotally.

I spoke with the filmmaker and gender violence activist Byron Hurt regarding bystander education and via text message he shared, “I think the jury is still out about whether bystander intervention education truly works. From what I understand, studies have shown that bystander intervention education helps change attitudes about the role of the bystander but I am not sure if there is empirical data that proves that it works.”



(centre) Byron Hurt

In 2008, Battered Women’s Support Services held special screenings of Byron Hurt’s film Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes in an event we called Emerge Vancouver.

In 2009, Byron Hurt wrote an article for BWSS Women Making Waves titled My First Time that discusses his experiences holding conversations with men about violence against women and some of the challenges and rewards therein. Battered Women’s Support Services frequently quotes Byron and has appreciated his insights reflected in Byron Hurt’s Top Ten.

This year we partnered again with Byron to to deliver a workshops at Canadian Council for Refugees Spring Consultation in Hamilton, Ontario on The Role of Men in Ending Violence Against Girls and Women.


HIP-HOP: BEYOND BEATS AND RHYMES a film by Byron Hurt is a riveting documentary that examines representations of gender roles in hip-hop and rap music through the lens of filmmaker Byron Hurt, a former college quarterback turned activist. Conceived as a “loving critique” from a self-proclaimed “hip-hop head,” Hurt examines issues of masculinity, sexism, violence and homophobia in today’s hip-hop culture.


Byron continued, “That being said, as a young man, bystander intervention education worked for me. The bystander model showed me that there are many ways to intervene in a given situation, for example, where a man is being abusive toward a woman. Prior to joining the MVP (Mentors in Violence Prevention)Project, a bystander intervention-based gender violence prevention program, I would have remained silent in the face of violence. But because of that education, I know I have a very important role to play as a bystander. I know this, education about how to be a proactive bystander is better than no education at all. For too long, men have been taught to remain silent or to mind our business when we see men abuse women. But bystander intervention education changes the paradigm and tells men (and women) that speaking up and taking action can save someone’s life or prevent someone from being victimized.”

Shaking Our Heads

Many women’s and youth groups were shaking their heads this year after learning that the BC Ministry of Children and Family appeared to bypass their own procurement guidelines, in the absence of research demonstrating efficacy and with no previous track record delivering violence against girls and women prevention to youth, provided the BC Lions (a for profit enterprise) with a direct award of $320,000 to do prevention work. Then, overlooking the wo
men’s and youth groups in BC including Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW), Leave Out Violence BC (LOVE BC) and many others, who are veterans in violence prevention with youth, EVA BC accepted over $542,000 to partner with the BC Lions to deliver Be More Than a Bystander Campaign. It was tough to take, in part, because of the enormous amount of money compared to the outputs, along with the fact that both these groups have zero experience developing and delivering violence prevention with youth, seemingly proves, in a way, that it is not what you do, not about recognizing and acknowledging what currently exists that works, but seemingly based on who you know. It is a “dog eat dog” world in the arena of public funds and when these things happen, it is an arena we wish we didn’t have to play in.



(left front) Andrea Canales, BWSS Manager


Not to be Dismayed …for long….

So onward we go, with our fearless leader, Andrea Canales, BWSS Manager responsible for prevention services and programs, along with an amazing youth and adult violence prevention advisory council:

  • Buffie Irvine, associated with Fat Panic! and Anti-Up!! and now BWSS
  • Hawa Mire, associated with LOVE BC and Point Youth Media
  • Brittany Stewart, associated with Girlz Group
  • Nathalie Lozano, associate with My Circle, Immigrant Services Society
  • Saara Bhanji, associated with North Shore Women’s Centre and AWARE
  • Esteban Gonzalez, associated with Latin American Solidarity Committee
  • Shelley MacDonald, associated with Learning through the Arts
  • Anntuaneth Figueroa, associated with Britannia Community Centre


(left) Chuck D

Our anticipated activities and outcomes for trainees and workshop participants include:

  • Achieved 600 participants
  • Delivered 40 workshops
  • Trained 10 youth to deliver workshops
  • a stronger understanding of the ways socialization and social context affects girls and boys from a multi racial, multi ethnic backgrounds
  • understanding the difference between a healthy relationship and an abusive one
  • better understanding of the dynamics of abuse
  • to understand the historical, legal and social context for violence against girls and women
  • how and where to seek help
  • instigating change in individuals to break out of the assumed roles of girls and boys/women and men to stop violence
  • individuals in abusive relationships have increased knowledge and are able to act sooner to get help from organizations like BWSS
  • young men who are using power and control including physical and sexual violence in their intimate relationship will learn the origins of their behaviour
  • participants become ambassadors/active bystanders to spread the message of a better understanding of violence against girls and women
  • this program becomes a model for violence prevention education and is recognized in North America because of its focus on gender socialization of both boys and girls
  • enhanced leadership skills for youth who participate in the Curriculum Advisory Council and as program leaders
  • legacy materials including curricula and manuals available for others to access, and a film documenting the experiences of all involved in the prevent violence against girls and women
  • taking action within the larger society to respond to concerns and issues that contribute to violence against girls and women



We are eagerly proceeding with our new mandate, with our solid years of experience, with the strong leaders that surround our organization, and our work to date. It is an exciting time for our youth program as we move against the barriers and challenges to continue to engage young men and young women to seek change in their lives, relationships, community and society.