October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Empowering all girls to make healthy choices is one piece of the solution to a complex issue. Domestic violence reaches all communities, without regard to race, age, gender, ethnicity or wealth.
At Girl Scouts of Northern California, we work with about 450 girls through our Got Choices program. This year-round program serves girls who are involved in or at risk of becoming involved in the juvenile justice system. The majority of the girls have a history of poor academic progress; some have learning disabilities. Many have experienced abuse or neglect in their lives, including domestic violence, rape or molestation; some are pregnant or parenting. Right now, we have the funding to deliver this program to girls in Santa Clara County. If I could waive a magic wand, we’d be helping girls in the juvenile justice system in all 19 counties we serve. Got Choices reaches girls in detention centers and many girls continue to participate in Girl Scouts after their release date through their community high schools.
Empowering girls to make healthy choices, takes more than just building skills. It also means helping them see and experience new possibilities. Last spring, Maria, who heads up the Got Choices program, loaned out her wardrobe to 6 girls in the program and drove them to San Francisco to attend a Girl Scout networking event for girls and professional women. Maria’s kind gesture helped the girls fit in and experience themselves in a new way. Maria wrote to me afterward:
The six girls from the Got Choices program who participated in yesterday’s ANGELS event could not stop talking about how much fun they had the whole ride home. As you know these girls have limited access to professional, successful and positive role models in their homes or in their communities so this event was great for them.
They were so excited to connect with these professional women on a personal level.
Some quotes I heard were:
“They were so professional and yet so nice at the same time.”
“They went through some of the challenges we have gone through and are still so successful.”
“They had ups and downs just like we do.”
“I felt motivated and excited to get done with school so I can be like them one day.”
It is super important to help girls identify unhealthy relationships (as the newly announced teen dating violence awareness campaign will do in San Francisco high schools). It also is important to help girls develop the skills and create a vision to effect positive choices in their lives. I understand that learning to make healthy choices is not the only answer. Young women also need access to resources, education and income. But the complexity of the issue and solutions should not stand in the way of offering a hand, where ever possible, to help victims of domestic violence escape the cycle.