Students ‘step up’ against dating violence
1 in 3 MRU students reports experiencing abuse
Pamela Di Pinto
It can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime.
Adrienne Pohlman knows that all too well. At 16 years old, she found herself in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship with her then-boyfriend.
“You have this mentality that it’s never going to happen to you, or that’s not abuse, and that’s the way you’re supposed to be treated,” said Pohlman, a recent graduate of Mount Royal University’s social work program.
Now the education co-ordinator for the Canadian Red Cross’ RespectED program, Pohlman knows what a healthy relationship truly looks like. Last January, she helped other Mount Royal students “step up” to break the cycle of abuse as a peer facilitator for a new dating violence prevention project, Stepping Up.
“I don’t think people realize that they deserve to be treated with respect, and they deserve to get out of a relationship without feeling threatened or harmed,” Pohlman said. “They have the choice to be safe.”
Stepping Up is the brainchild of Gaye Warthe, an associate professor of social work and disability studies at MRU, and her team of colleagues, Cathy Carter-Snell and Patricia Kostouros, who are also associate professors at Mount Royal University, and Leslie Tutty, a social work professor at the University of Calgary.
The program is based on Making Waves, which Warthe said is one of the longest running and most successful projects in Canada on healthy dating relationships, targeted at high school students in New Brunswick.
“It also includes community prevention, so it’s not just the people that participate who learn something,” Warthe said. “It’s the whole community that can benefit from it.”
“Post-secondary students are largely in a category that’s been, in my opinion, forgotten, so there’s not a lot of services for them,” Warthe said.
In 2008 and 2010, Warthe and Tutty began research at Mount Royal using the National College Health Assessment to see if dating violence was a problem on campus. They found about a third of students experienced some kind of abuse, whether verbal, emotional, physical or sexual, in at least one relationship either before or after enrolling at Mount Royal.
“Once we found out it was an issue, it’s kind of hard to say, ‘Well, it’s an issue. Let’s not do anything about it,’” Warthe said.
Alongside Mount Royal staff and community partners, trained peer facilitators —who make this project so unique — developed and delivered interactive workshops at the end of Jan. 2011. Topics included healthy relationships, sexual relationships, boundaries and communications and gender and media stereotypes.
Following the weekend’s activities, participants also developed prevention projects, such as pamphlets, posters and buttons, that were later passed out to Mount Royal students along Main Street.
Warthe said her team received positive feedback from both participants and peer facilitators involved.
“I think Mount Royal can be different,” she said.
Warthe and her team are recruiting peer facilitators for another Stepping Up weekend to be held in the fall. (For more information, or to get involved, contact Gaye Warthe at 403-440-6441.)