Vol. 78, No. 2Youth

Upset woman and back of man's head.

Healthy love

Reaching out to youth to prevent family violence

Reveal'ution depicts an abusive relationship between two high school students, Jessie (Tianna Sarra) and Brady (Tage Castonguy). Credit: Abbotsford Police Department


Dating is hard, doubly so when you're a teenager. Volatile emotions and inexperience can be a toxic mix — sometimes leading to unhealthy or even abusive relationships.

But new initiatives from the RCMP and other organizations across Canada are working to reach out to teens, helping to open their eyes to the dangers of unhealthy and violent relationships.

Revealing a revolution

Det. Tonya Dupuis had a problem. It was 2014, and the Abbotsford, B.C., Police Department's Domestic Violence Unit had been tasked with educating local schools about teen relationship violence. Dupuis, who pioneered the unit in 2009, now found herself frustrated by a lack of educational resources to use during their workshops.

"We struggled to find materials that could address young relationships," says Dupuis. "Because family violence is such a heavy topic, people are sometimes afraid to talk about these issues. We wanted to tackle it head on."

She hit upon the idea of creating a modern teaching video, one that would unflinchingly depict the realities of a controlling and abusive relationship. Dupuis, with the support of her chief, Bob Rich, worked with a local production company to bring the short film — titled Reveal'ution — to life.

The film follows a toxic teenage relationship, showing how it affects everyone from the victim of abuse to her friends to the watching bystanders. It's a raw and intimate look at an abusive relationship, and also a rallying cry to the audience — asking them to step up and take a stand.

"It's surprising a lot of the kids," says Dupuis. "There's a lot of head nods from the audience. They can see the nexus between what we're talking about and what they're living. They are relating to it, and that's the scary part."

Aboriginal outreach

Videos aren't the only method of outreach being used to help address violence in relationships. The Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres have spent the last five years growing their own program — Kizhaay Anishinaabe Niin (in English, I Am A Kind Man).

The program addresses violence in indigenous communities, providing individualized training, counselling and activities to more than 150 men in the last year alone.

"When I've gone out to the communities, the majority will tell me that they themselves witnessed violence against their caregiver as children," says Chris Taylor, a trainer with the I Am A Kind Man program. "They'll tell me that it's rare they had a healthy male role model, let alone a father. While engaging these men, we're also finding some of the healthy men in the communities and raising them up as role models."

Being exposed to violence as a child massively increases the likelihood of being involved in violence as an adult, either as a victim or perpetrator. I Am A Kind Man aims to create a network of healthy, supportive men — helping to breaking the cycle of violence that has continued for generations in many communities.

"Many of the program's graduates provide peer leadership and support to some of the younger men," says Taylor. "These are often the guys who everyone was afraid of in the community, and they've clearly made positive changes in their lives. They're looked up to by the younger people."

Strong community support and healthy role models can provide continuous outreach and education, showing young people what a positive relationship looks like — and encouraging them to avoid dangerous choices.

Starting young

As discussing family violence becomes less stigmatized, more agencies are taking notice of the potential dangers present in young relationships. The RCMP has launched several campaigns aimed at teens, including the #healthylove social media program and RCMPTalks on relationship violence. Non-profits, police departments and more are making their own efforts to reach the difficult-but-important teen demographic.

"As law enforcement, we need to be not afraid to talk dating violence," says Dupuis. "We need to get in at a younger age. These relationships are happening, they're starting at a much younger age, and I think we all — in all the agencies — need to start talking about these things sooner. Awareness and prevention are so important."

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