Local Teens Aim To Reduce Dating Violence

By Beacon Staff

“Dancing is about dancing, and a dress is about a dress. It’s not about an invitation or a provocation,” said Hilary Barshay, P.E.A.C.E. and community education coordinator for the Violence Free Crisis Line of Kalispell. As spring ushers in prom season in the Flathead, P.E.A.C.E. launches the PEACEful Prom Project to promote a violence free evening. The goal of the project is to spread awareness about dating violence and to prevent sexual assault on prom night.

“The ultimate goal is that every single couple is aware of the other person’s personal boundaries and are not afraid to ask,” said Barshay. “This is not a ‘No Means No’ campaign, it’s a ‘Respect Your Partners Boundaries’ campaign.”

“Think American Pie,” Barshay explains. Movies like these show how teens can expect sex from prom. Everything about prom is a little “sexed up,” from the dress to the dancing to the after-party.

P.E.A.C.E. is the only Flathead Valley organization whose sole purpose is dating violence prevention and awareness, said Barshay. P.E.A.C.E.—Peers Educating and Advocating for Changing Expectations—was started more than 10 years ago by a local teen woman. It has grown to include volunteers from Whitefish, Bigfork, Columbia Falls, Flathead, Glacier, and Whitefish Independent High Schools. P.E.A.C.E. volunteers are trained in violence prevention, dating and domestic violence, discrimination, gender roles and their effect on the media. After weeks of training, volunteers travel around the valley to teach middle and high school students in a variety of different workshops and lessons.

Since one in four teens will experience dating violence, P.E.A.C.E. volunteers are passionate about education and by doing so preventing future generations from experiencing violence in their lifetimes. “With peer teaching, it is not like a teacher preaching statistics. It is people whom you can relate to, and they understand you,” said Kelsey Koch, a Whitefish volunteer.

“The best people to educate about it are the people being affected by it, and that’s young women,” Barshay added. But the women involved are not “man-haters.” Though P.E.A.C.E. is currently a women-only group, Barshay hopes that more boys will get involved in the violence prevention movement. “I would like to see more boys getting involved and holding each other accountable. Boys have to say stop,” said Barshay. Ninety-seven percent of sexual violence is committed by men, but P.E.A.C.E. is not out to get guys. “Most violence is committed by boys, yes, but most boys are not violent,” explained Barshay

The PEACEful Prom Project also educates through a daily PEACE Puzzle. Puzzle participants’ names go into a drawing for multiple dinner gift certificates and corsages.

Writer Hannah Pearce is a senior at Whitefish High School.