When the founders of Family Services opened our domestic violence shelter 35 years ago, they envisioned a social service agency that would be able to serve individuals and families with issues that stem from violence. Today, we specialize in serving many victims of crime, including those who have experienced sexual assault and human trafficking. Although much of our programming focuses on helping victims of crime after the crime has occurred, we want to make an impact early on. As we celebrate our 35th anniversary in Tulare County, we reflect on our efforts to shape our
community by focusing on education and prevention to create a future without violence.
Family Services acknowledges the need to get there before it happens, to prevent someone from experiencing any form of violence in the first place. Prevention education needs to go beyond the classroom. In order to make an impact on social norms, culture, and behaviors that condone
victimization – we must address people of all ages, socio-economic backgrounds, and cultures.
Primary Prevention Clubs
Almost 10 years ago, there was a shift in our field toward preventing
violence instead of focusing only on responding to it. As a way to do this, Family Services formed prevention clubs, MyStrength and MyVoice, at Lindsay High School. MyStrength clubs began as a club for young men to
explore prevalent notions of masculinity and their role in preventing sexual violence. MyVoice clubs were created with the concept of a safe space for young women to discuss their role in preventing sexual violence. Collectively, these clubs teach students skills to safely intervene, educate, and prevent sexual assault, harassment, and teen dating violence. Students engage their peers, school faculty, and community members by providing informational presentations and organizing outreach events.
Four years ago, our prevention program expanded to Woodlake High School with the same concept used in Lindsay, to saturate a community with only one public comprehensive high school. Some students have participated in the program since it began at
Woodlake High School. MyStrength President, Raul Reynoso, began his senior year this fall. Raul says, “Educating my peers and the community about how they can prevent sexual assault is important because it allows more people to be informed about the topic and hopefully decrease the rate of sexual assaults and unhealthy relationships.”
Many participants say they will use what they have learned in the future. “I will definitely use the knowledge I learned in MyVoice later on in life because sexual assault is a big role in my life. I will always educate my friends and family about sexual assault so that together we can help prevent it,” said first-year MyVoice member Jhovana Reyes.
Prevention club members and staff work closely with the community of Woodlake and created the Sexual Assault Primary Prevention Committee. The committee is made up of educators, school officials, parents, and students who provide guidance for planning primary prevention efforts in the community.
Our outreach program engages the community to raise awareness and prevent domestic violence, teen dating violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking. Family Services provides educational presentations and information booths for agencies, service clubs, schools and other groups throughout Tulare County. As of October 2018, we have reached 5,816 adults and 2,935 adolescents through 243 presentations and outreach booths we attended or conducted.
With the success of the prevention program and community education efforts, Family Services
began the Promotora Project in 2017. Promotoras are women trained to educate and raise awareness on important issues, all while empowering other women and girls. The goal of the project is to help Latino families have healthier, safer lives. Family Services’ Outreach Coordinator trains the
promotoras how to conduct pláticas, which are group discussions where they educate their
community on topics of sexual assault, domestic violence, and human trafficking. Our Promotoras say it is rewarding to help others who have experienced violence.
Through these programs, Family Services has been able to reach youth and adults who will take the knowledge they have learned back to their communities. These efforts are just a few of the ways Family Services is working to prevent violence from happening in the first place. With the help of our community partners, we have been able to start necessary conversations about healthy relationships and create safe spaces where victims can receive help. Prevention is possible when we all work together.