By Caitlin Eckert, LSW
Sexual Violence Prevention Coordinator, healingSPACE, YWCA Bergen County
Seeing violence as being preventable, instead of inevitable, is the first major push to successful program implementation for adolescents. The beginning phases of violence prevention start by activating individuals, family systems, schools, communities, and regions in not only recognizing the factors that contribute to power-based violence amongst individuals, but also examining protective factors that may serve as a buffer.
For adolescents, unexplained or unprocessed exposure to violence through first-hand experiences or through media can serve as a risk factor for future perpetration of violence. However, through the strengthening of already existing protective factors, such as connectedness to family, ability to discuss problems with family members and peers, involvement in social activities, and positive social orientation, the occurrence of violence perpetration can be decreased. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention / National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, people too often solely focus on the risk factors that need to be avoided, while failing to further examine how to strengthen the protective factors.
Additional protective factors that decrease the likelihood of adolescents perpetrating violence include frequent shared activities with parents, high grade point average, an intolerant attitude towards deviance, and presence of a parent or caregiver during at least one pivotal time during the day such as when waking up, at dinner time, or when going to sleep.
An important understanding of adolescent protective factors as a buffer to violence perpetration is that protective factors can be rooted in the cultural, social, and environmental context that the individual exists in. For example, protective factors are unique to each individual based on multiple facets, including race, religion, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other classifying information. This is key in understanding when implementing programming to prevent violence of any kind, as the recipients of the information are likely to hold their own protective factors that have been influenced by their own life experiences.
YWCA Bergen County’s healingSPACE —the only Sexual Violence Resource Center of its kind in the county—is a safe and welcoming place for survivors of sexual assault/abuse, their families and friends. Our 24/7 crisis intervention hotline provides free and confidential assistance, and trained advocates provide counseling and medical and legal accompaniments to survivors. HealingSPACE also offers support groups, volunteer training, and educational programs for schools and businesses, as well as sponsors activities to raise community awareness about sexual violence.
Caitlin Eckert is a Licensed Social Worker with her Bachelor’s degree in Family and Child Studies from Montclair State University, and her Master’s degree in Social Work from Rutgers University. She is currently working as the Sexual Violence Prevention Coordinator through YWCA Bergen County healingSPACE. She formerly worked in Paterson, NJ, as an educator for teens regarding HIV/AIDS and substance abuse. She enjoys working with adolescents and young adults by engaging them in conversations that influence them to create change within themselves or in their community.
This post is part of the YWCA Week Without Violence™ 2014 Blog Carnival. We invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #workagainstviolence.