Expect Respect is a school-based program that works to prevent teen dating abuse and promote safe and healthy relationships in middle and high school by engaging youth, parents, schools and communities. The program addresses positive and negative cultural norms at every level of students’ environments, from individuals to peer groups, schools to communities.
Last April, the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence hosted an Expect Respect training session to bring this model to Idaho schools. Jaime McManus, a WCA clinician who had started researching and training for the program while working in Denver, Colorado, was invited to the Coalition’s training and has been in charge of the WCA’s involvement with the program since then. In addition to her busy job as a counselor and her work with Project Connect (an initiative connecting health care providers and local domestic and sexual violence programs with adolescents), she gives presentations about healthy relationships and dating abuse at area middle and high schools every month.
Jaime says that she tailors the presentation to the audience. Middle school students are given some essential preventative knowledge and scenarios around sexual assault and dating abuse, but there is a particular emphasis on what healthy relationships should look like at that age. She talks to high school students about more specific abusive issues like reproductive coercion, and gives more detail about recognizing dating abuse, rape, and sexual assault in addition to age appropriate healthy relationship guidance.
According to Jaime, some of the biggest challenges in working on Expect Respect stem from the sensitivity of the topics. Many people, regardless of age, have a hard time talking about abuse and sexual violence, so it can be hard to seek feedback from students. However, the potential for prevention is invaluable. Given that approximately 1 in 3 teens has experienced some form of dating abuse, and that patterns of abuse beginning in middle or high school often continue into adulthood, efforts like Expect Respect can make an enormous difference not only in curbing abuse now but also ensuring healthier relationships in students’ futures.
Jaime explains the link between the work she does in schools and the work she does at the WCA, and why she believes this is such an essential effort: “Expect Respect is a grassroots program that can serve as both preventative and responsive; I believe in the basics, something many programs lack. I believe that the individuals we serve as adults were either not given the information as adolescents or the information wasn’t presented in a way that would allow seeds to be planted into adulthood. In my line of work I often hear, ‘I didn’t know I was in an abusive relationship’ and that tells me we missed that mark on prevention, and although the journey is not a short one, we can certainly start somewhere, with something.”