Program empowers students against domestic and sexual violence
Statistics can be ugly.
- According to Hope Alliance, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women ages fifteen to forty-four. That’s more than car accidents, muggings, and rape combined.
- One in five high school girls reports being physically assaulted and/or sexually abused by a dating partner.
- One in six women and one in thirty-three men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes.
- Boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children.
Sometimes it’s easier to believe statistics happen somewhere else, to someone else. But they happen here, too. In Williamson County six people have lost their lives to family violence in the past year, and an average of five sexual assault victims per week require accompaniment to the hospital, which means they have been sexually assaulted and request a certified victim advocate to accompany them to their forensic exam.
What can be done about these disturbing numbers?
Project Empowerment operates on the belief that while students are the experts on their lives, they need support to make healthy choices. Project Empowerment’s philosophy is that everyone possesses the knowledge to live a healthy life, but people have to explore how to use that knowledge.
“We need to address the root causes and risk factors of violence if we are to prevent it from ever happening,” explains Patty Conner, LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker), at Hope Alliance, Williamson County’s crisis center.
For many years the state of Texas focused on intervention, but more and more money was spent on intervention for ever-increasing numbers of victims. “The state saw the need to do prevention,” says Patty. The state turned to crisis centers—with whom they’d partnered for years doing intervention—to do that prevention work, she says.
Corey Seldon is the sexual violence prevention specialist at Hope Alliance. “Along with the structural coordinator, I’m in the schools teaching the Project Empowerment curriculum.” Corey loves her job. “It’s the best job ever!” she exclaims. “The great thing about prevention is we’re looking at root causes. We’re looking at respect.”
Both boys and girls are the focus of the Project Empowerment curriculum. “In our world, men are more often the perpetrators of sexual violence,” Corey says, “but addressing potential victims does very little to stop the action from occurring. By talking with only girls about potential violence, we further solidify that girls are victims—that violence is a part of their lives they need to deal with. In talking with both boys and girls, we open the conversation to include everyone’s responsibility and role they can have in ending violence.”
“That’s why I like prevention,” Corey says, “because it’s so hopeful. It gives us that sense of what can be done and what we’re talking about can actually affect our decisions later on in our lives.”
Patty agrees. “Community-wide dialogue and commitment to prevention are what’s needed. People don’t understand the role they can have. This work is about respect, and everybody has a part to play.”
For more information or to donate, visit www.hopealliancetx.org. Access the 24-hour crisis hotline at 1-800-460-SAFE(7233).