YWCA New Britain’s Sexual Assault Crisis Service (SACS) and STRIVE program have teamed up to launch a Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) project. Thanks to funding from the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence, the YWCA is one of three agencies completing YPAR projects and the only group in the state working solely with girls and middle schoolers at this time.
Ten 6th and 7th graders enrolled in the STRIVE program are participating in the project. Utilizing the PhotoVoice research method, an empowering and flexible photojournalism process, these students are learning how to advocate for themselves and educate their peers by presenting research and data on topics of interest.
The YPAR initiative aims to equip STRIVE students with the confidence and knowledge to better understand victims of abuse, to educate others on sexual violence prevention, and to be active and informed bystanders. The PhotoVoice component specifically is designed to increase public speaking skills, trust in adult mentors, and advocacy capabilities.
Phase 1 of the project officially began in fall 2019 with counselor advocate training for STRIVE staff, an introductory SACS presentation for STRIVE girls on healthy versus unhealthy relationships, and activities for YWCA’s Week Without Violence.
Phase 2 of the project is wrapping up now. The STRIVE participants have worked with their two YPAR facilitators to identify possible topics and map out strategies for their PhotoVoice project. Virtually, the girls have participated in an art and activism workshop, a scavenger hunt, and discussions related to consent, sexual violence, and bystander intervention.
Over the summer, the program will move to Phase 3 where the group will select a PhotoVoice project topic related to Rape Prevention Education (RPE). They will learn more about PhotoVoice research methods, and interview community members and city officials to learn more about their topic. In addition, they plan to distribute prevention education and YPAR project materials at middle school orientations and back to school events.
In fall 2020, STRIVE and SACS plan to begin the fourth and final phase of the YPAR initiative. Participants will begin to meet weekly again and complete their PhotoVoice project. They will continue to distribute prevention education materials at school events, and conduct at least three presentations to peers, city officials, and school administrators before presenting to attendees at the Youth Action Summit in January 2021.
“It is amazing to witness these young girls be motivated for change at such a young age,” said Youth Development Programs Coordinator Joanna Figueroa. “You should never underestimate the power of youth voice. I cannot wait to see their final project come to light.”
STRIVE, which stands for Strength, Teamwork, Respect, Individuality, Vision, and Excellence, is a program for girls attending Slade and Pulaski Middle School that provides youth development activities in a safe and comfortable environment.
SACS covers a 46-town region, offering assistance to sexual assault survivors and their loved ones. The advocates on staff are trained to work with hospitals, the court system, public safety officers, and other counselors assisting their clients. From March 2018 to present, SACS has provided prevention education to more than 1,400 students across the region in grades K-12.