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GSSWGraduate School of Social Work

Statewide coalition led by a GSSW alumna launches relationship violence prevention campaign

Stand Up Colorado

In Colorado, 1 in 7 people experience relationship violence, and more Coloradans have experienced relationship violence than the populations of Denver, Grand Junction, Castle Rock and Steamboat Springs ... combined. But despite the prevalence of relationship violence, only 40 percent of relationship violence incidents are reported in the state.

Those startling statistics come from Stand Up Colorado, a new relationship violence prevention campaign spearheaded by Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW) alumna Ellen Stein Wallace, MSW '85, the campaign's manager. The multi-year statewide campaign aims to prevent future relationship violence by shaping an informed, zero-tolerance public attitude that inspires individual and community action. Its core messages are that it is the responsibility of those who use abusive behaviors to seek help to change their behavior and that all members of the community should take action to help end relationship violence.

"We can't just focus on providing services to people after the fact. If we bring people together on the prevention side, we can make a difference," Stein Wallace says. "At the root of the problem are people using abusive behaviors and the community tolerating it."

Stand Up Colorado has launched a social media campaign, with online resources, telephone helpline, an ad campaign and a variety of community-led initiatives to follow soon. With the help of offender treatment providers, the campaign developed a curriculum for people who use abusive behavior and refer themselves for treatment. The campaign also has undertaken baseline research about Coloradans' attitudes about and awareness of relationship violence, and their intervention behaviors; analysis of the first wave of data collection is under way now, and data will be gathered again after 12 months and throughout the course of the campaign.

The campaign has been a work-in-progress for more than a decade. It started when Ginger Sherlock, a victim advocate in the Denver City Attorney's Office, traveled to New Zealand to learn more about that country's successful campaign to reduce family violence. Sherlock and Stein Wallace were members of the Denver Domestic Violence Coordinating Council, which embraced the idea of implementing a similar concept in Colorado.

For nine years the Colorado campaign was almost exclusively an unfunded project, kept going by passionate advocates like Sherlock and Stein Wallace, who previously served as executive director of SafeHouse Denver and interim director of the Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV) and volunteered her time to move campaign planning forward. But now, the campaign has significant financial backing from the Colorado Attorney General's office, The Denver Foundation and Verizon.

Collaboration has been key. Twelve Colorado communities have agreed to pilot prevention programs, and dozens of agencies, organizations and treatment providers have signed on from around the state. Those partners include the campaign's host organization, CCADV, where GSSW alumna Tamara Greene, MSW '17, is a program assistant. Partners also include Rocky Mountain Children's Law Center, where MSW student Jaime Herring interns and alumna Katherine Belcher, MSW '10, works as a clinical consultant.

"We're building a wide variety of partnerships—not just organizations that work in the area of domestic violence," Stein Wallace says. "By reaching out as broadly as possible, we're sending a message that we all believe relationship violence is wrong and that change is possible. That's where the real power is—it's coming from the community."

"We, as a city, have taken a stand against relationship violence," says Denver City Attorney Kristin M. Bronson. "The Stand Up Colorado campaign is an opportunity for us to partner with other agencies and our community to be a part of a movement that pulls the curtain back on abusive behavior. This campaign provides important alternative ways to address this issue that are non-blaming and non-shaming. We are setting an example, so when people see us and see this campaign, they know that 'It's not OK.'"

"This campaign won't change everyone, but if we reach those who want to change and can change, that's a huge start," Stein Wallace adds. "If we change the social norms, we'll see that the next generation grows up with a different set of values."

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