Take Back the Halls, Taking Back Our Lives signature program, is a teen dating violence prevention and community activism program designed to prevent relationship violence among teens and develop young people’s leadership skills. Take Back the Halls gives teens the opportunity to examine issues such as domestic violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment and sexual abuse, as well as the variety of social structures that support violence in our culture. We create space for students to talk about issues affecting their lives, to generate ways to raise public awareness, to speak out against violence, and to advocate for change in their schools and communities. In short, Take Back the Halls aims to empower teens to become community leaders and active participants in the movement to end violence.
The last decade has witnessed a growing body of research documenting teen dating violence. Studies indicate that dating violence among teens is common and widespread. The results of several recent studies suggest that physical violence occurs in 1 of 3 teens’ dating relationships. Moreover, a study by the American Association of University Women found that 81% of high school youth reported sexual harassment from peers. Between 15 and 20% of high school females report forced sexual activity. Domestic violence has been identified as one of the three leading causes of the teen girls’ drop-outs in Chicago public high schools. This research points to the compelling need for attention to relationship violence among teens in Illinois.
To respond to this need, Heather Flett, AM, LCSW, Executive Director of Taking Back Our Lives (TBOL), and Dr. Beth Catlett, Director of the Beck Research Initiative for Women, Gender, and Community at DePaul University, partnered to create the high school based teen empowerment program Take Back the Halls in 2004. Through a program melding academic resources and rigor with community engagement and activism, TBTH is able to offer Chicago teens a vibrant collaborative learning environment.
Take Back the Halls was created to fit into the Chicago Public Schools existing service learning program. Service learning is designed to engage students in hands-on projects that serve the community and complement academic instruction and curricular goals. All high school students are required to complete service learning as a requirement for graduation. Participation in Take Bach the Halls enables students to earn service learning credit. Under this model, participants meet weekly throughout the school year to learn about relationship violence, practice and observe actual relationship dynamics and interactions, expand their exposure to resources in school and the community, and enhance their own empowerment by advocating for healthy, safe relationships through a community action project. Group meetings are facilitated by Taking Back Our Lives staff trained in domestic and sexual violence, and DePaul University undergraduate student interns. Central to our program design is the creation of a culminating community activism project in which all participating teens can give voice to their experiences and perspectives. Additional creative outlets such as writing poetry give participants the opportunity for self-expression and community leadership.