06/27/2013 04:13 pm ET Updated Aug 27, 2013

How Educating High School Athletes Helps Defeat Domestic Violence

The Steubenville rape case, in which two student athletes were found guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl, brings to light the question of whether or not there is tolerance of dating violence within the realm of high school sports.

Both students were convicted back in March of 2013 based on rape allegations from an August 2012 incident in which an unconscious female classmate was repeatedly sexually assaulted at a house party.

Alarming evidence presented at the trial revealed that the Steubenville High School head football coach, Reno Saccoccia, may have failed to report the sexual assault allegations against both players. One particularly disturbing text message introduced at the trial suggests that Saccoccia "took care of" the matter, assuring both suspects that they would not be penalized. Even worse, Steubenville High officials have recently renewed Saccoccia's contract as the head coach for another two years.

If fellow teammates had been aware about the warning signs of dating violence and abuse, one can not help but wonder if they would have reacted differently to the rumors of the assault and whether so many people would have stood by, watched, and commented about the incident on social media without bringing it immediately to the attention of proper authorities. Education concerning domestic and dating violence can break the tolerance of violence against women, yet it may only be half the battle.

"Being well intentioned isn't enough," says Paige Flink, executive director of the Family Place Shelter of Dallas, Texas. "You have to have the right information to do something that can change the course of a bad situation." Educating high school faculty about dating violence will enable coaches to effectively identify signs of violence and protect victims.

Educational programs within the team environment is not a foreign concept. In 1993, Jackson Katz's Mentor in Violence Prevention program (MVP) at Northwestern University highlighted the recurrences of domestic violence within the realm of sports, explaining how proper education of high school and university athletes could counter these incidences.

The MVP program utilizes the influence that student athletes have within their schools. It encourages well-known athletes within the school community to become advocates against domestic violence and equips them with the skills necessary to change the environments that may foster tolerance of violence. These programs are beneficial to areas that are affected by high levels of dating and domestic violence, the most notable being the Nation's Capitol.

The DC Domestic Violence Intake Center at the D.C. Superior Court provided services to over 5,000 residents in the District in 2010. Of the 5,000 residents, more than 50% of those recipients lived in Wards 7 and 8. Additionally, the Metropolitan Police Department reported that there had been an increase in sexual assaults within the district, rising from 174 in 2011 to 263 in 2012.

As a response, the DC-based non-profit organization Becky's Fund has partnered with D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence (DCCADV) and Positive Choices, Inc. (PC) to present the "Men of Code" (MoC) program. MoC, which will run from June until August 2013 and again during the summer of 2014, aims at educating high school football players and their coaches about domestic and dating violence while training them to become advocates in their community.

"Men of Code," which stands for Men of Character and Ownership Dedicated to Leading by Example, embodies the proposition that young men can work towards ending violence against women by becoming advocates in their own communities. The program will be working with the Friendship Collegiate High School football team. While the school is located in Ward 7, MoC also targets young men aged 14-18 living in Ward 8. MoC will not only introduce participants to the warning signs of violence against women, but also develop the leadership skills necessary to become allies in the movement against domestic violence.

Upon completing the program, the football coaches and players of Friendship Collegiate will be able to identify patterns of dating violence by using the team environment to address dangerous behaviors. MoC is also designed to educate these young men about what constitutes a healthy dating relationship, preparing them to speak out against possible incidents within their school and communities. Aided by their popularity as student athletes, participants of MoC will then become role models by establishing positive masculine norms that discourage violence against women and demand accountability.

This program will create mentorship relationships between the football players and guest speakers, including law enforcement officials, community leaders, financial consultants and domestic violence advocates. Leaders of the Concerned Black Men National, Men Can Stop Rape, and 100 Black Men of Washington DC, Inc. groups will work individually with participants, helping them attain a full understanding of the commitment against domestic violence.

Domestic violence organizations and high schools across the country can use the MoC program's evidence-based practices to engage and encourage young men in their own communities into becoming advocates and positive role models. Discussing violence against women, analyzing the appropriate reactions and protocol, and creating hypothetical scenarios are valuable methods that address issues affecting women across the United States and provide a proactive and stimulating learning experience.

"Violence is never ever a choice a man should make!" This quote from Patrick Stewart at the 2013 comicpalooza summarizes why programs like MoC are important and why educating young men and boys about violence against women is a cornerstone to the struggle to end domestic violence.

Stewart emphasized that domestic violence is as much a problem for men as it is for women. It is "in our hands to stop violence against women" said Stewart in an attempt to raise awareness of how the issue relates to men. Stewart continued to explain how his father, a world war II veteran who suffered from PTSD, had been abusive to his mother while growing up.

Many men will face a situation in which they will have the make a choice. They will have to make a choice about how they will react to stressful situations arising out of the course of intimate relationships. Ultimately, the decision to become an abuser is in their control.

By teaching young men about the consequences of violence against women and girls, programs such as Men of Code are pertinent and can prevent the normalization of violence and stop incidents at the source. It creates a "spillover" effect where once you bring the issue of domestic and dating violence to the attention of young men and they realize their personal role and duty to prevent this violence, they will pass their awareness and knowledge to others within their age group and potentially to younger generations.

This creates a grassroot support movement that puts young men and boys on the side of those fighting against domestic violence. It allows them to recognize and respond to situations of domestic and dating violence, which unquestionably leads to effective tackling of domestic violence at its core and increases the social network of supporters and allies in the campaign to end violence against women.

Learn more about our mission to end domestic violence at and discover different ways to become a pro-active advocate, along with the Friendship Collegiate football team, by becoming a positive role model in your own community and help educate people about the campaign to end violence against women.

Co-authored with Giancarlo Serrato Legal Intern at Becky's Fund

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