What is the Healthy Relationships Program?
This program is offered to students in grades 7 through 12. At the middle school level, this program introduces students to appropriate behaviors in a dating relationship, the differences between flirting and sexual harassment, and the importance of learning to set boundaries. In high school, students receive a comprehensive overview of teen dating violence and how to prevent it. Lessons on sexual assault are often included as part of the Healthy Relationships curriculum.
What are the goals of the Healthy Relationships Program?
- Students will learn the red flags of an abusive relationship, and that Safe Futures is a resource available to them, as well as their friends and family
- Students will begin to think critically about gender roles, stereotypes, the media, and how these affect intimate relationships
- Students will develop tools for helping friends who are experiencing abuse or being abusive
- Students will develop an accurate understanding of consent and sexual assault and will understand the importance of respecting boundaries as a means to preventing sexual assault
Why do we teach Healthy Relationships?
A 2009 survey conducted by Safe Futures found that in our area of Connecticut 12% of high school students have experienced physical violence in a dating relationship. Nationally, one in three adolescents is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a figure that far exceeds rates of other types of youth violence. (loveisrespect.org) By the time a young woman leaves college there is a 25% chance she will be a victim of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault (oneinfourusa.org). It is imperative that we arm our students with the necessary tools to prevent dating and sexual violence. We must have these conversations early, as a means to dispel many pervasive myths about love, and to establish a new norm for what a healthy relationship is.
What do we teach?
The program guides students to answer the following questions: What is a healthy relationship, and what are the red flags that a relationship may be abusive? What is important to me in a dating relationship and what do I deserve? How do I set boundaries in a relationship and what happens if my partner crosses one of my boundaries? Why do some people stay in abusive relationships? How do I help a friend who is experiencing abuse or is abusing their partner? The curriculum also asks students to examine traditional gender stereotypes and the role they may play in perpetuating teen dating violence.
Additionally, an overview of the services Safe Futures offers is provided to all of our students with particular attention given to the domestic violence and sexual assault hotline numbers. Students are encouraged to use the services themselves and/or refer others they know who may be in need now or in the future.
How is it taught?
The Healthy Relationships program is typically taught over five consecutive days. The lessons utilize a variety of teaching tools to meet students’ different learning needs, including but not limited to: visual materials (including a short video depicting one example of an unhealthy relationship between teenagers), interactive relationship scenarios and games, examples of current, popular music and advertisements and the messages they send about relationships, and skill-building exercises around setting boundaries and being an ally.
All Healthy Relationships programs are founded on the belief that:
- Everyone deserves to feel safe and respected in their dating relationships.
- There is no excuse for abuse, ever.
We believe that young people are capable of making positive, responsible choices in their relationships and are our greatest asset in the fight to ending teen dating violence, but that they can do so only after being provided with the knowledge they need to act.
“I’ve learned how to deal with unhealthy relationships by using the tools (the educators) have given me. In fact I have helped a friend who was in a physically abusive relationship and I got her to come to terms that she is being hurt and she can’t let it happen, later that day she broke up with him and she says, ‘she has never felt more free than she does right now.’ So all in all, this is a wonderful thing you are doing; you have made such an impact in my life.” – High school student
“I always thought that someone was jealous about their partner because that person really loves the other person. But it is not and it does make sense that someone who is jealous could kill someone, or commit suicide. Now I realize I also was in an obsessive relationship. I had great feelings for my ex-girlfriend, I would text her like crazy and couldn’t stop thinking about her. I always wanted to be with her, then we broke up and I was angry for awhile, and I’m glad I didn’t do anything crazy. Now I’m going to control myself and see how I can be better.” – High school student
Why do we cover sexual assault in high school?
In addition to the alarming statistics about the frequency of teen dating violence and sexual assault, we know that drinking and drug use play a large role in sexual assault. A 2001 study found that approximately one-half of sexual assaults involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, victim, or both (http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh25-1/43-51.htm). Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about sexual assault, and most people are unaware of the details of Connecticut’s sexual assault law (http://www.connsacs.org/learn/stats.htm). Our goal in teaching about sexual assault is not to scare students, but to provide them with accurate, necessary information to protect themselves and others from an all-too frequent crime.
What is covered?
We educate students about the rate of sexual assault and highlight areas of Connecticut’s sexual assault law that could greatly impact them. We work to dispel the many myths that exist about sexual assault and rape while providing practical skills for navigating risky situations. We recognize these are uncomfortable topics, and as is the case with all of our Healthy Relationships lessons, students are invited to “take a break” from the lesson if they need to. Our Educators are always available to speak privately to any student who wishes to do so and students are reminded that Safe Futures continues to be a resource to them long after the program is over.
What is covered?
Students are taught about the history of our nation’s sexual harassment law, the content of the law, and begin to identify the behaviors associated with sexual harassment. Special attention is given to the difference between flirting and sexual harassment, and what to do if you are being sexually harassed or you witness someone else being sexually harassed.