Texas H.S. coaches 'Starting the Conversation' about sexual violence

High school program aims to prevent sexual assault

AUSTIN - Austin will soon have a new high school program available to help fight the recent uptick of sexual assault cases nationwide.

The Texas High School Coaches Association and the Texas Education Agency gathered Friday morning to announce details about the start of their "Starting the Conversation" initiative. Its main focus will be to raise awareness about the issue of dating violence. The end goal is to give coaches and teachers the tools they need to have uncomfortable but necessary conversations about sexual assault and consent.

The 26,000-member Texas High School Coaches Association has endorsed the program, taking the lead in spreading it around the country. 

D.W. Rutledge is the executive director of the Texas High School Coaches Association. He said this program is something he expects all Texas coaches to rally around.

"We're really trying to get the coaches to understand the platform that they have as far as teaching kids beyond the game," Rutledge said. "We want our coaches to realize that their major task is to teaching the intangibles that they have a platform to teach. And their minor task is really teaching the techniques of the game."

This initiative came about due to the recent rise in high-profile sexual assault cases across the country. Michael Williams is the former Commissioner of Education in Texas but has remained an advocate for a project such as this one. He said he hopes this program can be a step in the right direction for changing high schoolers' attitudes about dating violence.

"We have a problem in Texas and across the country," Williams said. "All of us have been looking at news articles about domestic violence and sexual assault. Unfortunately, there seemed to be a story every day. There has to be something we can do to prevent this. We must do something."

The program will include a starter kit with a foundation of what this initiative is all about. It will also have three lessons about the different stages of sexual violence and how to prevent it. It will focus on defining what sexual assault is and not stepping around the issue. The program will also encourage students to take accountability for one's behaviors and power within a school. Williams said this is a program that is necessary in many high school locker rooms.

"I have watched youngsters gravitate to great coaches," Williams said. "We're going to have great coaches in every high school in the state that coach every sport -- boys and girls -- talking to them about how you go about the business of respecting each other."

While many of these conversations will be difficult to initiate, Rutledge said that is no longer an excuse in Texas.

"Talking about the character traits are all pretty comfortable to talk about, but when you start talking about dating violence, respect for women and sexual abuse, it's a harder conversation to have," Rutledge said. "What we're trying to do with 'Starting the Conversation' is give coaches the tools to start the conversation."

The Texas High School Coaches Association raised the funding for the material in the project through its non-profit organization -- the Texas High School Coaches Education Foundation. The material will be available in January 2017 for coaches and teachers to utilize in their classrooms for free. 

The material will be available online for teachers through the Texas High School Coaches Association, the Texas School Safety Center and Texas Gateway. Parents will be able to access the program via the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

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