By Rocky Salomon, LMSW, and Jeffrey Younger
Co-Founders of The Shalom Task Force Purple Fellowship
You are walking into a doctor’s office for a complex, life-altering surgery. After running some tests and scheduling the surgery, the doctor asks if you have any questions. “How long does it normally take for your patients to recover from this surgery?” you ask nervously.
“Oh, I’ve never done this surgery.”
You are clearly shocked.
“Don’t worry, though! I’ve seen it performed live, and I’ve seen hundreds of videos of the surgery. I’m good to go.”
That is the reality for our youth. Students begin dating as early as middle school, but aren’t engaged in conversations about healthy relationships and domestic abuse until high school. Many never discuss the topic at all. The bulk of their relationship education comes from movies, TV, and music, where toxic relationships are often romanticized. Examples include songs glorifying abusive relationships (The Heart Wants What It Wants by Selena Gomez, Rock Bottom by Hailee Steinfeld), main characters having romantic relationships with their teachers (Riverdale and Pretty Little Liars), and idealizing stalking as a form of affection (You). Gen Z is constantly exposed to harmful ideas of how relationships should look, both in media and in real life, with no follow-up discussion on the topic.
As a community, we must engage youth in conversation around domestic abuse and healthy relationships. With no conversation, the next generation will not have tools to combat domestic abuse.
Shalom Task Force recently launched a new program to further engage teens in domestic-abuse awareness and healthy relationship building. The Purple Fellowship is a high-school fellowship that teaches juniors and seniors the skills to take on leadership roles in Jewish communal work through the lens of domestic-abuse prevention. It consists of an 8-week training that teaches students important leadership skills and builds awareness and support for safe and healthy relationships, while deepening their understanding of domestic abuse in the Jewish community. Through an 8-week training, we give male and female students the opportunity to engage in conversations about domestic abuse, to ultimately help to destigmatize the topic.
The fellowship culminates with Go Purple Day on February 11, a day to promote healthy relationships and to raise awareness about domestic abuse within the Jewish community. We are proud to partner with Project S.A.R.A.H. to bring this program to New Jersey schools. Shalom Task Force is proud to partner with Atlanta Jewish Academy, Berman Academy, Central (YUHSG), Frisch, HANC, Kushner, Maimonides, MTA (YUHSB), North Shore, SKA, YULA Boys High School, and YULA Girls High School to bring The Purple Fellowship and Go Purple Day to their students.
Ways To Start Engagement
Start discussing relationships earlier. There is a misconception that students can’t handle, or won’t comprehend, a discussion about abusive relationships at a young age. However, we as humans enter into relationships from the moment we are born. So why don’t we start the conversations earlier than we do?
While children in elementary or middle school may not be ready to discuss domestic abuse in the context of romantic relationships, they do understand another form of relationships—friendships. This could look like having a conversation with your third-grade daughter about the “mean girl” who isolates her from the rest of the girls by making fun of her and leaving her out of games. Similarly, supporting your seventh-grade son who is pressured and manipulated by a peer to do his homework for him. Many red flags that appear in abusive relationships can also appear in abusive friendships. Introducing these concepts early on will help the next generation have a better understanding of what to look out for when they begin dating.
Everyone can be a part of the solution. Statistics in the United States show that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men will be victims of domestic abuse at some point in their lives. In addition to recognizing the significance of this widespread problem, we also need to increase awareness of men as survivors, not only as the perpetrators of abuse. One of the most common responses we hear when discussing domestic abuse is: “That doesn’t happen in my community.” Dispelling myths of abuse as only occurring “in that community” or to “those people” or “this gender” will promote vital recognition of the nature of its universality. Most people have a preconceived idea about what victims of domestic abuse look like, when in reality domestic abuse can affect anyone regardless of gender, race, socioeconomic status, or religion.
During our most recent cohort of the Purple Fellowship, we taught 26 fellows from 12 schools to understand the topic of domestic abuse on a deeper level, as well as how the students can see themselves as part of the solution. As one fellow put it, “In just three weeks, I feel so connected to a topic I knew nothing about previously, and I feel inspired to cause change and spread awareness.”
Create a supportive environment. Shalom Task Force often receives calls from youth stuck in abusive relationships who are terrified to tell anyone in their life about their situation because they are not supposed to be dating and are afraid of the repercussions from their parents and community. Nobody should have to choose between receiving the help they need and being accepted by their community. Even when younger people get into a situation their community standards do not agree with, they still need support. For other youth, the experience of living in a home with domestic abuse may cause ongoing trauma and stress. In addition to navigating this painful reality, the burden of “holding the family secret” is often described by students who disclose their situation, often for the first time, to our staff and advocates. It is imperative for us to lead by example. This begins by normalizing the discussion of difficult conversations with youth from a young age. Normalizing these discussions during times of non-crisis moments will help teens and young adults come forward to seek support during a time of crisis.
Know your target audience. A parent once called Shalom Task Force to seek advice about how to speak to their teen about a concerning relationship they were in. “I tried the advice you gave my friend a few years ago, but it didn’t work,” they told us. While it would be much easier to find a one-size-fits-all approach to having difficult conversations, different approaches will work for different teens. While some teens may enjoy having a long conversation with their parents, others would rather give up their phone for a week than discuss relationships or dating with an adult. For these teens, try getting the conversation to start organically. Play a song or watch a movie depicting unhealthy and abusive relationships and slip it into the conversation.
On February 8, Shalom Task Force will be hosting a webinar to provide parents with awareness and tools around preventing abuse and supporting their children in healthy relationships. This program will also inform parents about the “Go Purple Day” experience and how to follow up with their children to encourage continued dialogue around healthy relationships. RSVP at ShalomTaskForce.org. We look forward to continuing this very important conversation!
Shalom Task Force’s mission is to combat domestic violence and help foster healthy relationships in the Jewish community. If you or your loved one has questions or concerns about relationships or are currently in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, we are here for you. Please call, text, or WhatsApp the confidential Shalom Task Force Hotline at 888-883-2323 or chat with a live advocate at ShalomTaskForce.org.