Monday, May 1, 2017

The Power of Prevention

By Emily Ostrowski

YWCA Clark County is dedicated to empowering and supporting survivors of sexual assault and domestic abuse, but our aim is to also change the pervasive culture of violence that contributes to these issues in the first place. We do this in part by actively engaging our community in prevention programs that seek to stop violence before it starts.

Currently we have four prevention programs. Two of which, Where We Grow and Where We Thrive are aimed at middle school and high school youth because we know that getting young people involved can be a powerful and galvanizing force for change.

Where We Grow is a 10-12 session program designed for middles school students ages 11-14, while Where We Thrive is 8-10 sessions, and geared towards high school students ages 15-18. Participants in each group build knowledge and skills to help support healthy relationships, as well as learn about boundaries, and how to become advocates for themselves as well as others.

In discussing healthy relationships and boundaries with middle and high school aged students, the topic of consent is frequently addressed.

Michelle Polek, prevention specialist for our SafeChoice Domestic Violence Program, facilitates Where We Grow, and notes the importance of discussing consent with her students. “Even if they aren’t sexually active, and I never assume they aren’t, middle school-aged youth absolutely experience or witness sexual abuse and harassment,” said Polek. “I think it’s also important to recognize that consent applies to a wide range of romantic and platonic actions, and everyone has different comfort levels.”
Ariella Frishberg (left) and Michelle Polek at the
Postcards with Purpose event for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Ariella Frishberg, a prevention specialist for our Sexual Assault Program who runs Where We Thrive, echoed that sentiment, “Consent is just asking for permission or asking for someone to define their boundaries, which is something we should all be thinking about and doing all the time – not just in sexual situations.” As part of those discussions about consent, Frishberg has her students do self-reflections about their own emotional, physical, and sexual boundaries.

Another topic that frequently comes up in both prevention groups is the influence of media on culture and relationship norms. “Now more than ever, media is an intrinsic part of our lives, and the lives of the young people we are working with.” said Polek.

Frishberg explained that when she discusses media and pop culture with her students they often examine how unhealthy or abusive behaviors are portrayed as if they are romantic. “We focus on how popular culture normalizes and romanticizes jealousy, control, stalking, and abusive behavior,” said Frishberg, and noted popular examples like “Twilight”, “Fifty Shades of Grey", and the Eminem and Rhianna song,  “Love the Way You Lie.”

Youth who participate in either Where We Grow or Where We Thrive have an opportunity to be part of the YWCA Clark County Prevention Advisory Board (PAB). The PAB is currently comprised of 6-8 students who get together once or twice a month, and are integral in helping plan for Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Awareness Month events. They’re also very active on social media, finding content to share on YWCA Clark County Prevention’s Facebook and Instagram pages.

When asked what the benefit to having these important and sometimes difficult conversations with students, Frishberg did not mince words,

“There’s no short answer to this. Young adults are not given many opportunities to develop skills around relationship building, communication, setting boundaries, and asking for consent. When we make spaces for these conversations, they are able to develop skills they will end up using throughout the rest of their life. The shorter question is, why wouldn’t we have these kinds of conversations?”

To learn more about these prevention programs, as well as our programs Where We Live and Where We Build you can visit our website, call us at 360-696-0167, or email prevention@ywcaclarkcounty.org with the program you are interested in listed in the subject line. To donate to YWCA and support great programs like these, visit ywcaclarkcounty.org/donate.


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