Lucy Rios is the director of prevention and communications at Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence (RICADV). I talked to her about her work in my continuing series on domestic violence issues.
Why is prevention important?
We have been strategically working at how do we end domestic violence in our community. We focused a lot on how to respond to victims of domestic violence as a way to support them with work in the courts, the programs, the shelters and classes. All of that has been put in place because we want domestic violence to end but after 40 years we have seen that the rates of domestic violence haven’t changed.
To invest in prevention means looking at what is at the root of this problem and what can be put in place to stop it from happening in the first place. If we ever want to end domestic violence it is critically important that we invest in prevention at the same level and the same intensity that we did when we formed intervention services, because we know the impact they are having on the people that are experiencing the problem but what we want to do is to prevent people from having to experience it in the first place.
Rhode Island has the Lindsey Ann Burke Act that promotes education in schools. How do you think school education is going?
We work with Ann Burke and other groups like Katie Brown Educational Program. Rhode Island was the first to pass a teen-dating mandatory education law. And what it does – it is very comprehensive, it is not just about teaching youth but also the staff having a policy in place and the administrators knowing how to respond to teen-dating violence. Since that law’s passage the Delta Focus leadership team – made up of those partners – have done a number of peer-informed interviews and we will be releasing the report at the end of August. We have looked at how the law is working we know there are various factors at play in how schools respond to implementing the law. We wanted to know – what does it mean for the staff? Do they know what to do? Do they know there is a policy? Do the students? Are they getting the education every year?
Schools want to do a good job, but they don’t always have the resources to do what they want from getting useful tools and videos to teach and engage young people, to having the resources to do more like a coaching boys into men program in their school. We know schools understand it is important and we wanted to identify what we could do to help.
Part of prevention is about teaching healthy relationships?
We have member agencies who teach communication skills. They also look at how we are socialized, what are the gender stereotypes, what do they mean and how do they play out in relationships? In terms of the healthy relationship education our partners in the community deliver a lot of that. Katie Brown work in a lot of schools – all our member agencies have educators to respond to request but it is perhaps 1 person to 10 schools, 35 different class rooms.
We need to ask – how do we support schools to have healthy environments so that is not dependent on an outsider coming in so that right in the school they are seeing models of how to resolve conflict in a healthy way, how to be a peer and friend, ways to improve communication skills.
We know a one time presentation is going to help build knowledge but it isn’t going to change behavior, so a school climate that is healthy, positive and nutures healthy relationships is really important, so it is teaching the skills but also creating a positive community.
What about men?
We have focused on intervention and built relationships with agencies that have a lot of men – the police & criminal justice, but we didn’t engage them as partners in saying ‘this is not acceptable’. We focused on the response, but what we have learnt is the messenger matters. If we are going to change norms around toxic masculinity, the audience may hear it differently coming from me compared for example from of the ‘Ten Men’ members. (Read about RICADV’s Ten Men campaign here).
We focused on intervention and safety so we have been a very confidential movement, so we need to figure out what is the role for men and Ten Men is one way of doing this.
It is in our economic interest do do away with domestic violence – do you think commerce should support prevention projects?
The Center for Disease Control has a message – they put out a report on the cost of domestic violence (to the economy) and the message is every sector our community has a role to play. If you want a healthy workforce you have to help prevent domestic violence.