Q&A: Using 'The Halls' Web Series to Help Young Men Prevent Violence

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Nicole Daley of Start Strong

A group of teen boys sits in the back of a Boston classroom discussing a story they recently heard. A female student has accused a male classmate of rape, and the situation has gotten people thinking about their own relationships and thoughts on masculinity.

In this instance, teens aren’t just spreading the latest rumors about a friend or teammate. They're discussing the scenario explored in “The Halls,” a Web series produced by the Boston Public Health Commission to engage young men in violence prevention.

The eight-episode series went live in 2014, thanks in part to funding from the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. “The Halls” follows three young men dealing with the aftermath of an alleged sexual assault at their high school in order to get real teens talking about gender-based violence against women and girls.

Nicole Daley, program director of the commission’s Start Strong: Buildling Healthy Teen Relationships program, spoke with NCFY about their reasons for launching a Web series and how organizations can use "The Halls" in their work with young men.

NCFY: How did you come up with the idea to launch a Web series?

Daley: We know that young people are on their phones very consistently and it's one of the biggest mediums for how they're engaging with information. That's why we decided to do a Web series and not a different format. In the beginning phase, we did focus groups. We did 10 focus groups across the city—9 with young men and one with young women—and a lot of ideas and themes came out of those focus groups. We recognized that young people across the country have a lot of shared values, especially now with media being a really strong link between all young people.

[Read what young men have to say about their experiences committing partner violence.]

NCFY: What has been the feedback from teens?

Daley: When we show it to teens, we love it, because whenever we stop it we get, “No! Don't stop it!" When we've done in-person screenings, we've gotten a lot of good feedback and just have some really good conversations because a lot of the norms that you see in the film are ones that resonate with young people.

One thing I should add, after we got all the feedback from the young people in the focus groups, we worked with our Start Strong teen leaders to have them work with the production company to shape the storyline, to go through the script, and kind of review it to see if all of the themes and the way they were portraying characters were really relevant to young people. So, a lot of what the young people see resonates with what they're going through as they struggle with healthy relationships, how they should be in a relationship, and navigating those relationships with parents. 

[Discover five ways to prevent teen dating violence.]

NCFY: Why was it important to include youth in the planning process?

Daley: Even though we work really closely with youth continuously in dating violence prevention here in Boston, [we know that] young people are the experts in their own lives. They are so well aware of how the trends in everything from social media to music to language change so quickly. I think it's so important when doing any type of campaign, any type of initiative where you're trying to reach and talk to young people, that you have young people at the table. Not even in a token way where you have one young person who's the voice for everyone, but to really engage them throughout the entire process. I think the message [of the final product] goes deeper, and the buy-in you get from the youth involved in the process to then spread that message is stronger.

NCFY: How do you hope youth workers will use this tool?

Daley:  One of the things that sit on the website is our discussion guide that accompanies the Web series. So we're really hoping that youth workers can use it with any groups of young people they may be working with at community centers, in schools, and [in] other out-of-school settings. Really, we designed it as a tool that can supplement any of the work that they're doing, so it doesn't necessarily have to be a program that's already doing work around sexual assault prevention. It could be a science program for boys ages 11 to 14. 

[Watch "The Halls" and download the discussion guide.]

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