Project DOT (Dream. Own. Tell.) is a sexual assault prevention program for kids and teens that aims to engage youth in discussions about healthy relationships, consent, and the importance of being an active bystander to end sexual violence.
The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault has worked in partnership with community-based organizations to ensure children and teens from underserved communities have a safe space to talk about healthy relationships and healthy sexuality. Through workshops and community mobilization activities, youth mentors instill positive messages about sexuality, gender roles, self-esteem, etc. as a way of counteracting the culture of violence exposed to in our daily lives.
As part of our social media campaign for the South East and East Asian group, we sat down with Christina Ortiz, our new Senior Prevention Coordinator, to get an inside look at how Project DOT served the South East and East Asian community.
SVFREE: What made you join the Alliance?
ORTIZ: I joined the Alliance because sexual violence is a human rights, social justice, public health, and criminal justice issue. By providing education and having honest conversations, we can create a culture of respect, safety, and equality.
SVFREE: Can you explain your position and what it looks like on a daily basis?
ORTIZ: My title is Senior Prevention Coordinator. That means I manage the Alliance’s community-based prevention services including Project DOT. I also am the Regional Coordinator (RC) as The Alliance is one of the six New York State Department of Health designated Regional Centers For Sexual Violence Prevention. As RC, I collaborate with our partner agencies (CVTC, Mt. Sinai Beth Israel, Bellevue, and Bronx DA) to provide prevention services throughout NYC communities. My day-to-day varies, but in general it includes responding to program/workshops requests, presenting sexual violence prevention workshops like Bystander Intervention, working on our partner collaborative prevention programs like OutSmartNYC, enhancing our DOT curriculum, preparing for and facilitating Project DOT workshops, and of course, the non-fun aspects of work, reports.
SVFREE: What’s the most gratifying take away from your job?
ORTIZ: The most gratifying take away is being able to provide education and support and motivate change to diverse and underserved communities.
SVFREE: In your words, how would you describe Project DOT?
ORTIZ: Project DOT is a program that provides a safe, educational and empowering space for minority and underserved communities to learn about and work to end sexual violence. Project DOT shows them the role they play as leaders in their self-identified communities. It uses community-level prevention techniques including a youth-created social media campaign and community mobilization projects to engage their peers in the conversation about social norms, healthy relationships, and consent.
SVFREE: What were your first impressions upon completing the first two weeks?
ORTIZ: My first impression was that youth have more insight than adults give them credit for and the range of personal experiences of youth.
SVFREE: How was the experience of completing your first round?
ORTIZ: Completing my first round of Project DOT was enlightening. It will be interesting to hear examples of how peers and adults in these youths’ lives contribute to their knowledge, beliefs, and perceptions about relationships. I learned what material works perfectly, what needs to be tweaked for the population, and how important the community mobilization activities are. We do an activity called community mapping, where they identify what communities they belong to. We later use this to figure out how they will gear the community mobilization to their communities. It also allows them to implement what they’ve learned in Project DOT and see what impact they can make within their communities as change-leaders.
SVFREE: In terms of Project DOT, what do the prevention and community mobilization activities look like with youth?
ORTIZ: Typically, the community mobilization activities involve the youth designing and launching an activity to engage peers, parents, caregivers, and other adults from their respective communities in dialogues about teen sexual violence prevention. This could include hosting a community event, a teach-in, or recruiting friends for a bystander intervention training.
This round our youth focused on using online platforms to engage their communities. Their four projects are 1. “Draw my Life” video focusing on victim blaming, 2. Q&A about teen healthy relationships with questions from their peers, 3. Youth Resource Page that will be part of our Project DOT website, and 4. How Healthy Is Your Relationship? Quiz
A few of our youth will also be sharing their experiences with Project DOT on the Alliance’s podcast, “Sex Talk Happy Hour”.
SVFREE: What’s a theme that Project DOT represents that doesn’t get enough attention in these communities? Whether it’s establishing healthy relationships, bystander intervention, or misconceptions about rape.
ORTIZ: I would say the biggest theme Project DOT focuses on would be the gender norms/social norms that contribute to unhealthy relationships and rape culture.
SVFREE: What about this round of Project DOT are you particularly impressed by?
ORTIZ: I was impressed by how many commitments these youth have. They are busy, between school, extracurricular activities, studying for SATs and Regents, and even part-time jobs, they have more commitments than I did at their age. It amazes me how they balance it all.
SVFREE: What do you think entertainment can be doing better in terms of its messaging? Whether it’s TV, film, or music?
ORTIZ: Messaging in entertainment is changing slowly. However, it is still behind in terms of diversity, victim-blaming, its ambivalence about violence against women, and how it portrays healthy relationships, especially to youth, to name a few. Media needs to do better in conveying a realistic impression of the time, effort, and commitment that healthy relationships require.
SVFREE: How do you think social media affects the way they take in these messages?
ORTIZ: Social media is one of the most accessible and used platforms, especially by youth. They use it to share emotional connections, find ideas, express themselves, and learn. Instagram, Twitter, FB, and other social media platforms contribute to the unhealthy messages youth, who are just beginning to develop their identities, receive by exposing them to unrealistic or harmful behaviors and stereotypes. This results in them having unreasonable expectations of sexual and gender norms and experiencing difficulty in forming healthy relationships. Look at #relationshipgoals, it only shows the good and photogenic side of a relationship but never the struggles that the couples may be experiencing.
SVFREE: What kind of an impact do you hope will Project DOT create within these communities?
ORTIZ: I hope that it will spark and create an opportunity for conversation about healthy relationships including sex, consent, gender roles, and dating. As someone who is also a part of an underserved community, talking about sex, healthy relationships, and violence was not encouraged nor did it typically happen between youth and adults.
SVFREE: What did you learn from the youth?
ORTIZ: I’ve learned the value of silence. If we take a step back and give them the opportunity to fill the space, they will. This also continued to show me the importance of patience and listening. I learned that many youths have experienced trauma and/or may be involved in trauma. Regardless, all youth deserve an opportunity to vent, to share their stories, or to seek advice. Being a good, non-judgmental listener just comes with the territory of working with youth.
SVFREE: Were you surprised by their thoughts about gender, healthy sexual relationships, or bystander intervention?
ORTIZ: No, since our age group varied from 13 to 18, I was expecting varying thoughts about gender, healthy relationships, consent, and bystander intervention. You have the youth with fewer life experiences whose beliefs and thoughts come more from their parents/caregivers and friends and the other youth tend to draw from their personal experiences. Overall, youth are still learning about their sense of self through life experiences, knowledge, and environment while managing societal expectations.
SVFREE: What would you like their parents to know?
ORTIZ: That youth first learn about gender norms, sex, and healthy relationships from what you say and do and they repeat it to others. If you want to help them grow in into adults with healthy relationships, it is important to allow space for open and respectful communication, be okay with being uncomfortable at times, and be supportive.