What Will You Do With Your Voice?

By Jasmine Ceja – Youth Programs Coordinator

Public speaking has always been something I’ve been drawn to. I love to talk and the fact that I get to speak locally and across the country about an issue that is so important couldn’t be a better fit.

I recognize the power my words have on this issue, as I may be the only person young people hear state unequivocally “Abusive behavior is NOT okay or normal in relationships, it’s not something we need to get over or ignore.” I believe speaking about this issue is a powerful thing we can all do at some point and in some capacity.

Speaking in classrooms gives me the opportunity to take a topic that has been taboo for so long and turn it into a conversation in which young people are willing to participate. From questioning the facts about jealousy to challenging ideas of how severe abuse needs to be before it “counts,” I have the opportunity to create change and provide a new perspective for youth to consider and apply to their current and future relationships.

Many people ask me if I like where I work and what I do – the answer is Yes, I love it! The other question I get asked is – what difference have I made? To break it down – I have the opportunity to develop resources that educate on dating abuse and building healthy relationships, and directly implement those programs for thousands of students in the Los Angeles area. I help guide schools and service providers in their approach with teens. Whether it’s learning more about our curriculum or using our materials and resources on loveisrespect.org these educators are willing to use their voices to create a knowledgeable and safe environment for their students.

But our voices are only one part of the solution.

There is another voice that I consider equally as important to our cause – the voice of the young people in the classrooms. There’s a saying that “mother knows best”, but in middle or high school the saying changes to “my friends know best.” We know that teens are likely to first report any incidents of abuse to their friends. So, it makes sense to engage students to not only recognize the warning signs of abuse but to use their voice to create bigger change within their school and community. Peer educators are a great example of the success of the youth voice. Peer leaders show that it’s possible for students to make a difference, it’s possible for them to take the issue of dating abuse and make it the next discussion topic, awareness event, blog or PSA. The more we provide students with the resources to create their own change, the better they will be to apply these skills in their everyday lives.

What it all comes down to is the question – what will you do with your voice?

Will you post a status on Facebook, not about what you ate or your favorite song today – but maybe a statistic or link for resources? Will you host a tabling event on campus with resources and activities? Will you write a letter to your school, letting them know how important it is for students to learn about dating abuse? We cannot wait for the perfect opportunity to do something, for that perfect opportunity is now.

Everyone has a voice – youth, adults, students, educators, parents – it’s time we all use it for good.