When people find out that I work at Domestic and Sexual Violence Services, the first question they ask is, “Isn’t that difficult?”. The second is “How do we stop the violence?”. To the first I say, no it is not difficult. Working with victim/survivors inspires me and shows me the innate resilience and beauty of humanity. The second answer is one word but a lot of work: prevention. We break the cycle of violence by educating ourselves and our communities, specifically our youth, about violence prevention and the language of consent. We take these concepts and we live by them, consistently letting those around us know that abuse is never to be tolerated.

February is the eleventh annual Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Since 2010 in communities across the United States our children have been coming together to be the change they want to see in the world.  In Carbon and Stillwater counties as well as many other counties across Montana and the nation our prevention program, Power Up, Speak Out! is taught to 7th graders. It is a comprehensive and age appropriate tool to teach a basic understanding of healthy relationships and consent. We know from educator feedback that once kids have these tools and terminology they face fewer barriers to talking to an adult in a position to help when they encounter abuse or boundary crossing. They literally have the language to identify abuse whether or not they fully understand what that abuse is.

This is one of the main takeaways from a survey DSVS had our Red Lodge High School Freshman and Middle School 8th Grade Students participate in last year. We wanted to not only see if Power Up, Speak Out lessons stayed with them, but also wanted to get them thinking about safety planning for themselves and their peers. We asked “How do you know you are in an unhealthy relationship?” An aggregate of their responses focused on words such as emotional and physical abuse, hurt feelings, and most notably “makes me uncomfortable.” These students knew that in the empowerment model of healthy relationships the red flags that many in society may not recognize as issues were not things they deserved. This is an enormous success and means this generation will know that they deserve to have their boundaries respected and also to have fun and be themselves.

The second question we asked was “How many kids do you know who have been in an unhealthy relationship?”  58% of students replied that they knew 1-3 kids in such a situation. 14% knew six or more. 82% knew of at least one. This may shock you, but it is why TDVAM exists. We know our kids face these situations at very high rates and that is why we need to be discussing it and giving them the space to be honest with adults in their lives. The last question concerned whether students knew who to turn to if they were in an emotionally, physically, or sexually abusive situation. Trusted Adult, Teacher, Parent, DSVS, Friends. These were the top replies. They know, and in so knowing may save their own life or the life of a peer or even parent someday. That is powerful. That our children are empowered is the best gift we can give them.

If you would like more information on bringing Power Up, Speak Out! to your school please visit https://powerupspeakout.org/. This is a call to action for all of us. Talk to your kids about the hard issues. Don’t shy away from the initial discomfort, but rather remember that kids are exposed to all manner of subject matter whether you discuss it with them or not. If you open the dialogue with them early and from a place of empowerment they will have the tools to help themselves and their peers should the unthinkable happen. Silence breeds abuse. Secrecy kills. Let’s build a better future by giving our children a better chance for a violence free world.

If you would like more information on interpersonal violence and specific resources for our state please visit: https://mcadsv.com/

To learn more about Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month please visit: https://www.loveisrespect.org/teendvmonth/

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse of any kind our 24-hour helpline number is (406) 425-2222 and resources for Carbon and Stillwater counties are on our website https://dsvsmontana.org/

Written by Hayden Ramsey, DSVS Office Coordinator and Volunteer Manager