Over the summer of 2021, 15 teen volunteers from StrengthUnited’s Close to Home program in Canoga Park worked together to develop a graphic novel addressing teen dating violence. Teens Leading Change: The Domestic Violence Awareness Project, features visual definitions of intimate partner violence through youth-developed comics, essays, and a guide to accessing sexual and domestic violence resources.
StrengthUnited (SU), a chartered center of the Michael D. Eisner College of Education at California State University, Northridge, provides crisis intervention and support services for survivors of all ages who have experienced child maltreatment, domestic violence, and sexual assault. SU also works to address the causes of violence at their roots through prevention and education outreach. SU’s Close to Home program fosters community-wide responsibility to prevent interpersonal violence by providing education and utilizing community mobilization strategies. Community-based prevention strategies, such as creating protective environments and teaching skills to prevent violence, are key in curbing sexual assault before it happens in the first place.
“First and foremost, the goal was to develop a graphic novel created for teens, by teens, that really linked interpersonal violence to young folks' lived experience by reflecting on the ways that it has directly impacted their communities,” says Alejandra Sandoval, StrengthUnited Outreach and Prevention Coordinator. Youth were challenged to think about these issues in connection to their everyday lives. You can hear more about the project from Alejandra Sandoval in conversation with ValorUS (formerly the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault). And listen to the teens from Close To Home talk about their experience working on the project on the LA Public Library’s podcast.
StrengthUnited's Prevention educators worked with librarians from the Los Angeles Public Library to design and produce the graphic novel. StrengthUnited was intentional about keeping this project youth-led. Some youth struggled to process all of the intricacies of intimate partner violence and distill it into a single comic strip, so the facilitators created an essay section for contributors who wanted to write out their thoughts. The final product included many of the nuanced aspects of interpersonal violence, such as manipulation, sexual violence, and financial abuse. To ensure that important context was still provided to readers, the team included framing information after each story as well as a list of resources where teens can get support.
The Teens Leading Change graphic novel is now available electronically on the Los Angeles Public Library's website and will be distributed across the County to each library branch. You can view the publication online