Patriots team up with attorney general to fight domestic, sexual violence

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BOSTON — Upon learning that the state Attorney General's Office and New England Patriots Charitable Foundation are teaming up to fund domestic violence and sexual assault prevention education, Berkshire County prevention leader Janis Broderick said, "It's about time."

Announced Tuesday morning in a press conference at Attorney General Maura Healey's office, the new program is called "Game Change: The Patriots Anti-Violence Partnership."

In its inaugural year, 90 schools will be selected to participate in training programs. Schools will be selected this fall with training to begin in the winter with two adult representatives from each school.

Broderick, who serves as executive director of the Berkshires' Elizabeth Freeman Center to address domestic and sexual violence, lauded the formalized effort to establish programs. "I think this is great. We've been pushing very hard for many years for violence prevention programs for youths but there hasn't been any."

Nor has there been much funding for such programs, she said.

The Game Change program is one component of a $1.5 million domestic violence and sexual assault prevention initiative developed by the Robert Kraft Family and the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation. Game Change itself will be funded with $500,000 from the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation and $150,000 from the Attorney General's Office.

"One in three young people has experienced physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse in a relationship," said Healey. "Too often, we don't see it until it's too late. This program will help prevent violence by reaching students at an early age and teaching them about healthy relationships, how to recognize warning signs and how to intervene."

The Attorney General's Office is accepting applications from schools for participation through a designated web page, www.mass.gov/ago/gamechange.

According to the "Health and Risk Behaviors of Massachusetts Youth 2013" survey of 9,185 public middle and high school students, 8 percent of high school students reported being victims of dating violence and 9 percent a victim of sexual assault. Five percent of middle school students reported being victims of dating violence. In all cases, female students were more likely to report being victims than males.

Broderick said that the Elizabeth Freeman Center receives persistent requests for programming on the topics of violence and sexual abuse and assault from local schools. Currently, the center employs two youth educators who work with nearly 1,000 students across 14 Berkshire County schools, including Lee Middle and High School, which the center has partnered with for about six years.

In that example, initial education workshops start with seventh graders, during which facilitators talk to students about good communication, forming healthy relationships and how to recognize the warning signs "when things aren't going right," Broderick said. With older students, the workshops expand into these topics more in-depth, and include talks on sexism and racism.

In the past the Berkshire District Attorney's Office has offered schools programs on similar topics.

"We try to help kids create better means of communication and give them the tools to recognize when things aren't OK and to support their peers," Broderick said.

This approach used in Berkshire County is aligned with what the new Game Change initiative aims to educate about and promote in all schools and their partner agencies.

After the initial 90-school training, the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University, will provide more in-depth trainings to 30 selected high schools — five in each of the six statewide regions — in partnership with local domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy organizations. Another Massachusetts agency, Jane Doe Inc., will assist the partner organizations.

Select service providers may also be eligible for additional funding for delivering programs at the local level. Healey said the goal is for the Game Change program to eventually become self-sustaining and adopted throughout the commonwealth.

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said that while the Game Change program has been in the planning phase for about a year and a half, he said high-profile cases involving players within the NFL have "brought international attention to domestic violence, and that attention has been long overdue."

Stakeholders and advocates for Game Change say the key is to address the issues of violence against people at a young age because, as Attorney General Healey said, "by the time the problem shows up in our office, it's too late."

Schools interested in applying for consideration in the Game Change program can visit www.mass.gov/ago/gamechange or call the Attorney General's Office at 617-963-2700.


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