By Melissa McRobbie of the Daily Courier
Standing before a group of his peers in a classroom at Grants Pass High School, script in hand, Devyn Meyers asked Hannah Trukki out on a date.
Flattered but hesitant, she replied, "I was hoping you could sign my dating bill of rights."
"Your what?" Meyers said.
"I want my relationship with you to always be healthy," she replied.
Trukki and Meyers are part of the Women's Crisis Support Team's Youth Action Team and were performing a skit about teen dating. The skit is part of a broader campaign to prevent domestic violence and sexual assaults in Josephine County and beyond.
Maya Washington played Trukki's "attorney" in the skit. She explained to Meyers, "My client will not enter a relationship when she's not in control of her own body."
At the end, both parties signed the agreement and Trukki happily accepted the date.
The Youth Action Team, a program of the Women's Crisis Support Team, consists of about 10 current and former Grants Pass High School and Gladiola campus students. All have taken a prerequisite leadership course for young men and women that teaches them about the root causes of violence.
The youths are gearing up to present their "Dating Bill of Rights" skit on May 8 at a summit on healthy youth relationships at Lane Community College in Eugene.
Women's Crisis Support Team prevention coordinator Ray Dinkins said their efforts are part of a campaign called "Rise to End Violence: Stand, Speak, Act," that encourages people to stand against violence, speak out if they see or hear something inappropriate, and take action to prevent abusive behavior. As part of the campaign, a banner was hung up over Sixth Street.
"As a community, we have both individual and community responsibility to end violence," Dinkins said.
After the skit at the high school, the Youth Action Team held a debriefing with Dinkins and his colleague Amy Harboldt in another classroom, discussing how to improve the presentation and how to deal with nerves when standing before a group of peers. They then shared with a reporter why they like being on the team.
"This is my safe place," said Aubrie Daft, a junior. "This is my family."
Justice Grogan, a sophomore, said being part of the group gives him the courage to speak up when he sees something that isn't right.
"That's one reason I'm so glad we have this team, because when we do see something like that it's hard to say something," he said.
Whether it's overhearing a sexist comment or seeing a classmate get involved in a controlling relationship, the students are trained to take a stand when they witness an unhealthy situation. But they won't tell a domestic violence victim what to do, Meyers said.
"We're not educated to say, 'You need to leave,'" he said. "The one thing we agree that we all want to say is, 'We believe you.'"
Dinkins said the public's focus is too often on the aftermath of domestic violence — and when people keep seeing and hearing about it, they can feel helpless, he said.
"I think the biggest challenge for most people is they don't know what they're supposed to do," Dinkins said.
He said another focus of the campaign is teaching people to avoid victim-blaming comments, such as "Why did he hit her?" or "Why did he rape her?"
Dinkins' position is paid for with federal Violence Against Women Act funding disbursed by the Oregon Attorney General's Sexual Assault Task Force. The task force's prevention coordinator, Nancy Greenman, said one of the goals statewide is to reframe the conversation about domestic and sexual violence. For instance, she said, most attention given to those issues is in response to violence that's already happened.
"By nature, it's easier for us to think of and describe what's unhealthy and wrong, and what we can do every day is to try to think about what's healthy and right, and to find our own language for talking about that," she said.
She said educating young people about healthy relationships — both romantic relationships and friendships — goes a long way. The hallmarks of a healthy relationship include mutual respect, equality, trust and a feeling of being safe, she said.
The Women's Crisis Support Team, a nonprofit organization serving Josephine County, also offers an emergency shelter, a 24-hour crisis line, court advocacy and other services. Dinkins said the crisis line took 2,810 calls last year related to domestic violence situations, and 782 sexual assault calls. The organization had 7,672 in-person contacts at its office on F Street. Ninety women and 62 children stayed at the emergency shelter last year.
Sometimes staff and volunteers respond to police calls when requested by law enforcement. Grants Pass police asked for a WCST response 72 times last year, and the Sheriff's Office had 15 such requests. Dinkins said the numbers — especially for the Sheriff's Office — used to be much higher when there were more deputies on the road.
Only a small fraction of cases end up going to court. The Josephine County District Attorney's Office in 2014 prosecuted 149 domestic violence cases involving charges of menacing, strangulation or fourth-degree assault — the most common domestic violence charges. The prosecution numbers used to be higher, too, before the budget cuts of 2012.
Dinkins said that nationwide, it is believed that only about one in four domestic violence victims seek help.
"We believe that we're only getting about 25 percent of the people who need our services actually accessing them," he said.
The youths will continue their "Stand, Speak, Act" campaign throughout the month and are available to give presentations throughout the county. The push is also a fundraising campaign; the WCST needs to raise about $200,000 annually in grants and donations to operate at its current level. Anyone who wants to donate or have the youths come speak can call Dinkins at 541-476-3877. Donations can also be made online at www.wcstjoco.org.
"The big push is helping communities understand that domestic and sexual violence are completely preventable," Dinkins said.
The Grants Pass City Council is set to issue a proclamation today recognizing April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. County commissioners are expected to do the same in a couple of weeks.
• The Women's Crisis Support Team offers a 24-hour confidential crisis line at 541-479-9349.
• For more info, or to donate to the WCST, visit www.wcstjoco.org or call 541-476-3877.
TIMOTHY BULLARD/Daily Courier
Ray Dinkins, the prevention coordinator for the Womens Crisis Support Team, gives last minute instructions to Grants Pass High School students who are about to perform a skit on a "teen dating bill of rights." The event is part of WCST's anti-violence push, "Rise to End Violence: Stand, Speak, Act."