Teen-Led Anti-Violence Group Helps Spread a Peaceful Message from the Ground Up
A disturbing number of teenagers experience violence in their relationships without even realizing it, which has led a number of Maryland youth to form Teens Against Assault, Violence, and Abuse to encourage non-violence among their peers. They hope to bring a greater awareness of youth violence and victimization, particularly teen dating violence, to their community.
TAVA is entirely youth-run, with an executive youth board that directs their weekly meetings. “TAVA gives information to teens in a way they can relate to, with teens as the educator and the messenger,” says Kyle Saxton, an 18 year-old Morgan State student. “We organize outreach events that engage teens in learning more about what teen dating violence is, how to approach the situation as the victim and an observer, and what to do after the situation has been resolved.” Kyle shared some of the group’s responses to their greatest challenges so far.
When he started attending meetings, Kyle was one of the only young men in the group, but in the four years since, TAVA’s membership has quadrupled. “When we’re doing outreach, we try to get [other young people] to sign up, to take a pledge against violence but also to come to our meetings,” says Kyle.
The group organizes basketball tournaments, fashion shows, and youth conferences—events that bring young people together to have fun but also lend themselves to education. “For our fashion show, during breaks we’d have models act out different kinds of abuse so people could be clear on what it looks like,” Kyle says. The models would simulate what an unhealthy argument might sound like and demonstrate other examples of dating violence. Then TAVA youth would give statistics, information, and resources to explain further. By modeling healthy and unhealthy behaviors and communicating information in entertaining ways, “our events teach life lessons about topics that [young people] feel they already know and feel they don’t need to be lectured on,” Kyle says.
Getting Boys Involved
“Most men don’t do this sort of stuff,” says Kyle. The majority of other young men in the program are his old friends, but that very uniqueness has compelled them to stay with the organization. At male-targeted events, such as TAVA’s basketball tournaments, Kyle and his friends speak directly to the young men in the group with stories and guidance. They encourage young men not to victimize their partners, while giving statistics that show that violence can happen to men, too.
The Larger Message
“People need to realize that most conflicts that cause violence can be simply solved with words," Kyle says. "Some young men have anger issues. It’s how they grew up and they can’t control their anger. It’s all about changing your attitude and not letting little things make you mad.” Having a group of friends who can help you express yourself better when you’re mad or frustrated is also critical, Kyle says. He found that group at TAVA.