Putting an End to
Teen Dating Violence

by Kelly Page, Director of Community Outreach/ Travis County Sheriff's Office

The Travis County Sheriff's Office (TCSO) launched its campaign to bring awareness of teen dating violence in June 2006. The TCSO recognized that teen victims of dating violence were on the increase and in some cases became victims of murder. So the question was posed, "How do we educate teens, parents, school officials, and law enforcement on the topic with limited staff and budget?" It is a question that most agencies face every day.

First and foremost we recognized that the campaign needed committed community partners to join in providing and donating services. With that in mind, TCSO began meeting with community members and sharing our vision. Our campaign includes developing visual materials, (print and video), conducting educational workshops, and creating educational and creative opportunities for teens, including outreach events.

Historically, domestic violence awareness campaigns are launched in October during Domestic Violence Awareness month. However, TCSO chose to launch its campaign during the summer when young people are out of school and there is idle time.

We knew that we would need to develop a print campaign to attract attention. Therefore, we turned to the Sherry Matthews Advocacy Marketing agency. This agency has a proven history of developing award-winning campaigns for community outreach initiatives. Not only did the Matthews agency agree to assist us at no cost, but they also did so with a three-week deadline, which included designing bus banners, a vehicle wrap, and posters. The purple 60's flower theme "Violence is not a sign of affection" has become known throughout Travis and surrounding counties.

Austin Graphics graciously donated the material and labor to wrap one of our TCSO units, and Capital Metro provided hefty discounts for banner placements on two buses for a six-month period. Over two-weekends, during the summer including "tax-free weekend," the wrapped vehicle was placed inside malls.

Joining us at the events were the TCSO Explorers Post 1099 and staff from the Travis County Attorney's Underage Drinking Prevention program. Over a total of six staggered days we shared a variety of educational materials with the public relating to teen dating violence, date rape drugs, underage drinking warning signs, protective orders for teens, and Austin-SafePlace.

We also partnered with Austin-SafePlace and Texas Advocacy Project to conduct three free educational workshops over the coming

year for school staff, advocacy agencies, and law enforcement. Our objective in presenting these workshops was to expand communication between various professionals, creating a better understanding of teen dating violence, as well as expanding the knowledge of how each profession procedurally responds to the violence. We utilized the proven initiative, "Choose Respect" developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC's initiative sought to reduce youth dating violence by encouraging healthy relationships and increasing awareness of the warning signs of dating violence. Moreover, CDC provided the teacher manual, educational videos, and various print materials at no cost.

Including the Texas Advocacy Project into the training was very beneficial. Texas Advocacy Project currently has a staff attorney to provide teens and adults with information on the legal aspects of protective orders for teens. They also provide a service to teens seeking protective orders. Additionally, Carolyn Mosley, whose daughter Otralla Mosley was a murder victim as a result of teen dating violence, joined our initiative with the hopes of making a difference in the lives of other teens.

TCSO also utilized existing teen dating violence awareness public service announcements (PSAs). A simple search of the Internet identified several nationally recognized PSAs that were created by Eagle High School teens in Eagle, Idaho. The film instructor at Eagle High School was more than happy to allow TCSO to personalize the videos by adding local talent and graphics to the existing videos. These PSAs were aired on Austin television throughout the summer, as well as being aired in local theaters at a lower, non-profit advertising rate.

In October of 2006, TCSO expanded teen involvement. We partnered with the Austin Film Festival, Sweet-Leaf Tea, Freebirds World Burrito, and teen band Sliders Fault to sponsor, at no cost, a contest encouraging teens to create a PSA on the topic of teen dating violence. We announced the PSA contest by hosting a Sliders Fault concert at the donated venue at Barton Creek Square mall. Also joining the event were cast members Jesse Plemons and Aimee Teegarden who appear in the television show "Friday Night Lights."

Following the concert at the mall TCSO hosted lunchtime concerts over a two-day period at two area high schools, sharing information about teen dating violence and about the PSA contest. TCSO, Texas Advocacy Project, and the Austin Film Festival made several presentations over a two-month period to educate teens on the PSA topic and to show them the nuts and bolts of making a PSA film. The winning PSAs were announced the first week in February, 2007, during Teen Dating Violence Awareness week. Three PSAs were selected from nearly 50 entries; all three selections were by student teams from Stephen F. Austin High School.

As Dr. Illeana Arias, Director of CDC's National Center for Injury and Violence Prevention, stated, "Adolescents need encouragement, examples, and guidance from parents, schools, and communities about how to relate to other people. . ." TCSO encourages other agencies to band together to bring awareness to teen dating violence.

For more information please contact: Kelly Page kelly.page@co.travis.tx.us