LEANDER, Texas (KXAN) — A local high school student is working to prevent dating violence among her peers. Tuesday night she will hold the first meeting to talk with students and parents about harassment and abuse, the warning signs and what they can do about it.
The program comes as Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month comes to an end, but it’s just the start of a project Kristen Jones will pass on to future students at Rouse High School when she graduates this spring.
“There are definitely some people who have been in abusive relationships, who have been harassed,” she told KXAN Monday, “and for the longest time they didn’t speak up about it.”
That’s just among the friends and classmates she’s spoken to, she said. Jones took an informal, unscientific poll of 50 students and found the vast majority either had experienced some form of dating violence or knew someone who had.
“I personally have been harassed on one of my dates that I went on,” she said, “and I realized that I wasn’t alone in this.”
Jones came up with an idea to help prevent teenagers from going through what she did and turned it into her community service project for the Girl Scouts Gold Award, the highest honor in the organization.
She’s calling her education campaign “Not #MeToo,” a response to the social media movement that started last fall to provide women and men space to share their experiences with harassment, abuse and sexual assault.
“I really want to prevent it from happening,” Jones said. “I don’t want more people to have to say, ‘Me too, me too, me too.’ I want it to stop.”
“It’s really a prevention message, and that’s what we’re really about,” Randy Randolph said. She heads up prevention education and youth leadership at the Expect Respect program at Austin’s SAFE Alliance and has been working with Jones on the project.
“The reason I work with young people is because it is so powerful coming from them,” Randolph said. “Teenagers have this infinite ability to want to help each other.”
As many as one in three young people experiences some kind of dating violence, whether it’s verbal, physical, emotional or sexual abuse, and it starts as early as middle school for some kids, she said.
In response, the SAFE Alliance — which stands for Stop Abuse For Everyone — last year developed two new ways for teens to contact them, adding both text and online chat lines. Teenagers don’t even like talking to their parents on the phone, Randolph said, so they needed to find a way for young victims of abuse to ask for help in a comfortable, secure way.
Anyone can reach the text line at 737-888-7233, the online chat line by clicking here, or the phone hotline at 512-267-7233. Parents can find more resources here, including warning signs that your child might be in an abusive relationship and ways to talk to them about how to form healthy connections.
“What I’m really hoping is that young people are more aware of the signs and avoid those relationships,” Randolph said of Jones’ education program. “And if they find that they’re already involved with them, that they’ll actually get help.”
Jones, meanwhile is setting her project up to continue once she graduates. “I have underclassmen lined up to do this year after year after year,” she said.
She also created a website — which she coded herself over the course of five months — to keep the movement alive. There, users can find more information about dating violence and the Not #MeToo project itself.
The first meeting is Tuesday evening, from 4-6 p.m. at Rouse High School. It’s free and open to all students and parents of Rouse High.