‘In Their Shoes’ toolkit to combat dating violence among teens coming to West Seattle, White Center schools

In conjunction with the new school year getting under way, the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV) has released a toolkit for non-profit groups and teachers to talk with teens about dating violence and healthy relationships.

Called “In Their Shoes: Teens and Dating Violence,” the toolkit “is an interactive experience and gives teachers everything they need to get the conversation started,” Kelly Starr with WSCADV wrote in a statement. “Participants become a teen character, make choices about their relationships, and move through experiences of sexting (text messaging), pregnancy, homophobia, and stalking.”

The tools have been given to two local non-profits that focus on domestic violence: the Domestic Abuse Women’s Network (DAWN) working with Highline schools, and New Beginnings, working with Seattle schools.

Cheryl Bozarth, executive director of Dawn, said In Their Shoes is being introduced to Highline high schools (including Evergreen) for possible inclusion in their health classes, and that student participation is voluntary.

“I really like (the toolkit) because, one, it actually helps people understand making choices within a context of what youth might be facing when it comes to their social world, the dating environment and, particularly, around dating violence,” Bozarth said. “I appreciate that it is very clearly scenario-based, but in a realistic way. The language and situations are relevant to what our youth are facing today.”

Kiana Swearingen with New Beginnings has been presenting domestic violence lessons to West Seattle High School health classes and Madison Middle School 8th graders over the last two years, and she also ran a semester-long anti-violence relationship group at Pathfinder Middle School last year.

Swearingen said she has been presenting a “mini-version” of In Their Shoes during that time, focusing “on identifying one’s personal dating values, the factors of healthy and unhealthy intimate relationships, having discussions about power and control, and how to help a friend in need who is experiencing dating violence or is potentially abusive.”

“I can not speak to the effectiveness of the In Their Shoes toolkit towards preventing dating violence as I am just beginning to use it in its entirety,” she said. “But I can say that enabling youth to have safe and open conversations about relationships and specifically dating violence is a huge step toward helping youth to be in healthy relationships. When youth are able to come to the peers and adults in their lives and get thoughtful and accurate information about relationships than we are helping to create a safer society for all.”

Swearingen said New Beginnings’ approach to ending domestic violence is through prevention. “We wanted to start reaching youth before they were entering dating relationships and change the attitudes that foster and perpetuate violence in our society.”

“I believe that the students truly leave the presentations more prepared to see the warning signs of a potentially unhealthy partner, help friends who are in dating violence situations and stay safer through their lifetime,” Swearingen added.

WSCADV provided statistics on domestic violence homicides along with the announcement of the In Their Shoes kit:

“New research from the Washington State Domestic Violence Fatality Review found that nine percent of domestic violence homicide victims in our state were under 21 at the time they were killed. Many more began dating the person that ultimately killed them as a teen: nearly one third (31 percent) of victims in studied cases were under 21 when they first began dating. Researchers found that schools (in Washington) did not provide adequate education or resources to address dating violence.”

For more information, visit the WSCADV, DAWN and New Beginnings online.

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