We developed Agent of Change to meet two basic, important needs. One, we need to reach students. Two, we need to reach them in a way that engages them, that shows how sexual violence affects them and what they can do about it. What better way to engage people than through the oldest form of human communication–a story. What better way to reach large numbers of them than through the newest form–technology.
Agent of Change combines the ancient art of storytelling with the new art of video games and contains the knowledge from our decades of violence prevention education. It’s a story that draws people in because they are a part of it. It’s called gameification, learning through interaction in a virtual world.
But no single method of education is enough to end sexual violence, and Agent of Change is not just an online program. We want to continue the engagement people develop with these issues as they play the game. We use all the traditional methods of outreach but these methods are enhanced because they can start at a deeper level of understanding. We’re also using newer methods, specifically social media. Our daily Facebook interactions and bi-weekly Facebook discussions continue themes of the game. Students can discuss the game further, although it’s not necessary to have been through it to participate.
In order for change to occur, we need to engage students immediately by giving them basic information at the same time that we show them how sexual violence affects them. We need to illustrate how we all do things to either perpetuate the violence or to stop it. We must give them the tools to understand what all the facts mean, and help them understand how everyday language can silence or support survivors. Agent of Change does this. Each individual who enters the game must confront their own beliefs–and biases–as they make choices. They have to think about these issues without consulting someone else, or being silenced by someone else.
I have used a lot of techniques in my years as a sexual violence prevention educator: posters, flyers, sidewalk chalking, info tables, class announcements, radio shows, presentations, and discussions. I have always been particularly committed to talking to people in person. I like to answer questions and ask follow-up questions, to respond to specific concerns, to directly counter misinformation, and to confront harmful attitudes and beliefs.
With all these methods there are limitations, the biggest one being the inability to get to that deeper level of personal engagement. This limitation is obvious with passive programs like posters, but it’s also a problem in presentations. If the group is large, the presentation can be entertaining and thought-provoking but not very interactive. With a small group, the interaction is dependent on who talks, who listens, who has thought about these topics before, who wants to be disruptive, who feels silenced.
In addition to the logistical constraints, there are time constraints. The necessity to cover basics like statistics and resources means there’s no time left to tackle the questions that would move us forward: “What does this mean for me? If I don’t rape, and I don’t know anyone who has been raped, then why do I need to hear this?” Agent of Change solves this problem by making it easily accessible, something that students can do on their own time and in private, so they can participate fully, instead of feeling peer pressure to do or act a certain way.
The first online sexual violence prevention programs ranged from awful to OK but were just screen simulations of what I was doing as an in-person educator. They were didactic, imparting facts and “truths” in about the same amount of time as most live presentations, and without the ability to respond to questions or misinformation. I was against them, and there were no thorough, rigorous evaluations to make me reconsider.
Agent of Change was designed to address all these limitations. What you see now is just the beginning. We will continue to make it better, more engaging and interactive. We have rigorously evaluated the program and the data is positive. We will continuously evaluate, and will make improvements based on those evaluations. This is the future of sexual violence prevention and it will help us move closer to our goal of ending sexual violence.
Director, We End Violence