Written by: John DeRousie, Custom Marketing Solutions
OSWEGO,, NY – Working in collaboration with several Oswego County School Districts, Oswego County Opportunities (OCO) has helped bring the STEP Program to Oswego County. Funded by a grant through the Office on Violence Against Women and the U.S. Department of Justice, the STEP program, which stands for Services, Training, Education, and Policies to Reduce Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence and Stalking in Secondary Schools Program, provides the necessary resources to help combat the prevalence of these issues in Oswego County.
Recognizing a need for specialized domestic violence education and intervention for young people, OCO worked closely with the Futon School District to help them receive the STEP program grant, one of only 9 in the country. “We realize that schools are the hub of activity for our young people and that collaborating with the schools is the best way to reach them. As there are already education and intervention services in place in the county’s northern and eastern regions, we are collaborating the Fulton, Hannibal and Oswego School Districts so that we may serve youth in the central and western part of the county,” said Director of OCO’s Crisis and Development Services, Eric Bresee.
In addition to collaboration with the school districts, OCO has reached out to a number of other agencies that will be partners in the STEP program. OCO’s Services to Aid Families Program, the Fulton City Police Department, Oswego City Police Department, New York State Police Department, and the Child Advocacy Center of Oswego County will be involved in the planning and implementation process for the STEP program. “Over the years we have established a positive working relationship with these organizations as well as the participating school districts. We are excited about this collaboration and are looking forward to working together with our partners and establishing the STEP program in Oswego County,” added Bresee.
With the partnership in place, the first goal for the STEP program coalition is to develop and implement comprehensive policies in the Fulton, Hannibal, and Oswego high schools regarding appropriate, safe response to, and identification and referral procedures for, students who are experiencing or perpetrating domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault or stalking. To achieve this the collaborative has established a STEP Task Force that will review and create the necessary policies. Facilitated by OCO, the STEP Task Force will begin a thorough assessment of the prevalence of these issues in Oswego County in 2012.
“Teen dating violence is a pervasive problem with serious health and safety consequences for youth including; physical injuries, reduced academic success, increased risks of substance abuse, high risk sexual behaviors, and pregnancy,” said Bresee. “Research estimates that between 20% and 45% of students have experienced some form of violence by a dating partner. A national survey of high school students reported that 56% of girls & 76% of boys believed forced sex was acceptable under some circumstances.”
Citing results from a TheSafePlace.org survey, Bresee said that nearly 88% of victims who report dating violence only report to a friend, who are most times are unaware of how to help. “In addition, there is often an unwritten code between members of sports teams and social groups that prohibit peers from reporting on other members of the group. Young victims may isolate themselves, are ostracized from the group, or blamed for their victimization, especially if they speak out against a popular offender. Privacy and confidentiality become barriers for youth in small communities such as Fulton, Hannibal and Oswego because everyone seems to know everyone,” said Bresee.
Prevention and education programs in Oswego County dealing with domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking are very limited. A 2009 New York State OASAS Youth Development Survey showed that Oswego County fares noticeable worse that the state average on the risk factors related to domestic violence and sexual assault. The STEP program will address these risk factors and the lack of youth specific services and, by including students, parents, and representatives from the school districts involved on the STEP Task Force and establishing a coordinated community response to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking for youth and youth service providers.
Once the STEP Task Force has completed their assessment, which will begin next year, they look to begin implementing the policies and procedures they have established in 2013. According to Bresee, the main focus of the policies and procedures will be education. “We want to teach young people what healthy relationships really look like, what the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship are, and what to do if they find themselves in a situation where they are not comfortable. Unfortunately, the portrayal of relationships in today’s media is not always healthy. We want to provide them with resources and a clear process as what takes place if they come forward. We want to empower them by ensuring them of their confidentiality and letting them know that there is a process in place to protect them and offer them the guidance they need,” said Bresee.
For more information on the STEP program and for information on serving as a member of the STEP program’s TASK Force, contact Bresee at 315-342-7532.
A private, non-profit agency, OCO touches the lives of more than 30,000 people each year through more than 50 programs operating in over 80 locations throughout Oswego County. The agency, which is a United Way of Greater Oswego County member, employs more than 650 people and has over 1,200 highly valued volunteers. For more information, visit OCO’s website at www.oco.org