EVERETT — Young people are experiencing dating violence, whether or not adults are talking about it.
“The things we worry about,” they’re happening, said Dale Todd with Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County.
“If we ignore it, we’re condoning it,” said Robert Polk, the athletic director for the Everett School District.
On Monday night at Cascade High School, Todd and Polk gathered coaches from throughout the district to discuss dating violence and prevention. It was the second such meeting this school year.
Coaches are not counselors, but they are positive role models with influence over students, Polk said. They help teenagers “figure out how to act,” he said. Many consider character-building a part of their jobs. They also witness first-hand the problems that come up in young lives.
Todd is a former police officer and community corrections officer who has earned a related doctoral degree. For nearly two decades, he ran a business as a state-certified domestic violence therapist. He has been working with Domestic Violence Services full-time since May 2017.
DVS offers schools a free program called “Coaching Boys Into Men,” which can be adapted to be gender-neutral, Todd said. The program has been around nationally since 2001. It consists of 15-minute weekly sessions planned throughout a sports season.
Todd also meets with smaller groups of young people every week at Cascade High School and at the Denney Juvenile Justice Center. He started a similar initiative for Edmonds Community College athletics. Everett was the first local school district to sign on.
Todd’s work with DVS began after the 2016 mass shooting in Mukilteo. A 19-year-old took the lives of three people and injured others in a jealous rage over his ex-girlfriend. Domestic violence also was a factor in the 2014 shootings at Marysville Pilchuck High School and the killings of high school girls in Lynnwood in 2015 and Stanwood in 2004.
Many homicides involving intimate partners follow a pattern of escalating issues with power, jealousy and control.
A key part of Todd’s work is addressing emotional abuse, which can be easier to overlook, he said. It affects far more people in relationships, though, including teens.
These can be tough topics to broach at practice.
Still, high-schoolers are “already talking about it among themselves,” he said. “If we bring it up, it relieves some of the pressure.”
Polk, Everett’s athletic director, had heard about “Coaching Boys Into Men” years ago. He has paid attention to the news coverage of Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo movement. He learned that people he loved — family members and friends — have been victims of sexual misconduct.
“When you hear that stuff, you just don’t know what to do,” he said.
Then, at a meeting, Todd’s name came up.
Since then, Polk has invited all Everett’s athletic trainers to participate in “Coaching Boys Into Men” with their teams. If the coaches run into situations they aren’t prepared to handle, the counselors and administrators will connect the students with resources.
Todd provides them guidance for talking about healthy relationships. The materials go over issues such as catcalling, consent, bragging about sexual conquests or exaggerating them, and the consequences of “sexting” — sending or sharing nude photos.
To get help
If you or someone you know needs help relating to domestic violence, contact Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County’s 24-hour confidential hotline at 425-252-2873.
The nonprofit also offers free teen dating violence prevention presentations for schools and youth organizations, including summer programs, throughout Snohomish County. More info: 425-259-2827 ext. 1025. For more information, visit dvs-snoco.org. February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.