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ROCKVILLE — Video submissions are now being accepted for the Choose Respect Montgomery PSA Video Contest. Middle and high school students are invited to create public service announcements no longer than 60 seconds long that address two types of dating or domestic violence among teenagers.
The Choose Respect Initiative was created in 2009 by the Domestic Violence Coordinating Council, which advises the Montgomery County Executive on issues of domestic violence. According to Smita Varia, the program manager for the coordinating council, the Choose Respect initiative aims to engage teenagers on these issues while they are still in school.
“We really need to address not only domestic violence in older adult relationships but also dating violence in the middle and high school years,” she said.
Each year the initiative works with Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) and area private schools to conduct educational classroom presentations about preventing dating violence.
Along with its work within classrooms the Choose Respect Initiative held an annual conference. This year’s conference, which will be held on April 7, is the event’s 10th year.
“The main goal is to really raise people’s awareness around dating violence, so that one day they know really what a healthy relationship looks like,” Varia said.
This year’s conference will feature workshops designed for different age groups, an opportunity to walk a red carpet and listen to guest speaker Tenaj Moody, who runs Light to Life. The organization provides counseling and support to victims of domestic and dating violence.
Winners of the video contest will be announced at the conference, and prize money will be awarded to the top three video creators. Those who earn honorable mentions will receive gift cards for their submissions.
Varia explained that the top five videos will be sent out to schools so that students can pick a fan favorite.
The Verizon Foundation and the Montgomery County Family Justice Center Foundation are contributing the cash prizes. Gift cards are provided through donations from the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.
The videos must be created by Montgomery County residents in grades 6-12, although they do not have to attend Montgomery County Public Schools to be eligible.
“They can address all forms of dating violence, but they actually have to include at least two different types,” Varia said. “That’s just to bring light [to the fact] that it’s not usually one form of abuse.”
Varia explained that abuse often occurs in more than one way. A person might experience technological abuse and stalking or financial abuse along with physical violence.
Last year the contest received 138 entries from nearly 300 students throughout Montgomery County.
The videos in this year’s competition will be judged by a panel of volunteers, according to Varia.
One of the volunteers this year is Debbie Feinstein, chief of the Special Victims Division of the Maryland State’s Attorney.
“In my day job as a prosecutor oftentimes we get involved after the crime has occurred,” she said. “(But) being involved in Choose Respect really gives me the opportunity to engage in education and prevention work to try to stop bad things from happening, before they even happen.”
Feinstein says she enjoys watching what students come up with. She added that having students turn lessons into something creative that they’ve come up with on their own is an important aspect to understanding the issues.
Ananya Tadikonda is a senior at Richard Montgomery High School and a student member of the MCPS Board of Education. As a student, she said, she would like to see more conversations about dating and domestic violence to make the issues less taboo.
“The key aspect of preventing teen dating violence is education,” Tadikonda said. “I think it’s great that the peer groups are actually continuing to spread the message to the community because I think that’s very empowering to students.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three women and one in six men experience some sort of sexual violence in their lives. In Montgomery County, programs and initiatives like Choose Respect aim to provide education to young people so they’re better equipped to combat dating and domestic violence in the future.