NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Texas high school coaches are teaming up with the Dallas Cowboys, the Houston Texans and the Houston Rockets to start a high profile program to raise awareness about sexual assault.
"We believe it is a privilege to do what we do and a responsibility comes with that privilege,"said Cowboys tight end Jason Witten about the new "Starting the Conversation" initiative.
"We are the first state in the country to begin a program like this," said former Texas Education Agency Commissioner, Michael Williams.
The program was created solely for high school athletes. It's an entire curriculum designed to raise awareness about the issue of dating violence and equip educators with the tools needed to "start the conversation" with athletes and students about preventing sexual assault, harassment and consent.
"With an uptick of high-profile sexual assault cases across the country, the Texas High School Coaches Association knew we had to reach students at the high school level to try to change attitudes about dating violence," said D.W. Rutledge, the executive director of the Texas High School Coaches Association. "We know this can be a sensitive and difficult topic, so we're equipping educators with the tools they need to start the conversation."
The 26,000-member Texas High School Coaches Association has endorsed the program and will take the lead in implementing it statewide as early as January.
Sexual assault victims welcome the large-scale advocacy in their name.
"As a culture, it's really easy to want to rally behind a person who has been abused but we don't know how, we think we do, but I think it falls flat... and I think starting the conversation will help both males and females," said dating violence survivor Amber Anderson.
Some of the issues addressed include defining the term sexual assault; addressing the central legal concept of consent, which is vastly misunderstood; and exploring the larger issues that sexual assault raises, such as justice, accountability for one's behavior and power within a school.
"Education remains our best weapon in combating sexual assault, but the message must come from those in our schools who hold positions of authority and respect," said former Commissioner of Education Michael Williams. "As the son of a former high school football coach, I know all too well that coaches are in position to effectively 'start the conversation' and reach male and female athletes with critical lessons on respect and personal accountability that transcend beyond the stadium or arena."
The training was developed and packaged in a manner to reach the largest number of students possible. The program includes a starter kit that introduces the initiative, three lessons covering different stages of the issue, short videos to guide a conversation and a resource list for students who have more questions.
"This initiative introduces and addresses an important topic at an appropriate age," said Commissioner of Education Mike Morath. "Creating a culture of accountability for personal behavior allows all students the benefit of a safe and nurturing learning environment in our schools."
Funding for all materials related to the Starting the Conversation project, including production of the instructional video, were raised privately by the Texas High School Coaches Association via its non-profit organization, the Texas High School Coaches Education Foundation.
Teachers and coaches can share the program with students and encourage them to recognize inappropriate behavior, report the behavior to the authorities and prevent unwanted behavior going forward.
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