Group of young People Having Fun Together Under the Sun

Dating Safe: Empowering Healthy Relationships with an Equity Lens

by Dvorah Silverman

Dating violence among youth is a prevalent and concerning health issue in Canada, as demonstrated by a national study indicating that 1 in 3 young individuals experience such violence. These statistics are particularly distressing when we consider the experiences of queer, trans, or Two-Spirit youth, who might encounter transphobia in the form of negative or demeaning comments from their peers on a daily or weekly basis. 

The YWCA Dating Safe program is an initiative aimed at preventing dating violence among youth. Employing an equity approach, the program strives to educate and empower youth of all genders by equipping them with the necessary knowledge and skills to navigate relationships that are free from violence and abuse. Over the course of five years, the YWCA Dating Safe team has collaborated with experts in the field, youth, and facilitators to develop a curriculum that reflects the diverse multi-ethnic, racial, and linguistic communities it serves.  

Dating Safe’s eight-module curriculum addresses topics such as personal safety and consent, emotional literacy, healthy boundaries, and bystander intervention. Delivered over a four-year period, the curriculum was piloted to Grade 8 students, with two additional ‘booster modules’ for Grades 9 and 10, as part of their Physical Health and Education classes. With the knowledge that queer, trans, and Two-Spirit youth face increased risks of harm when navigating relationships, the Dating Safe Curriculum: Facilitator Guide is intentionally guided by anti-racist perspectives and Indigenous Knowledges that are inclusive of gender and sexual diversity and accessible to students across abilities and languages. 

The curriculum incorporates a decolonial approach by promoting relational ways of interacting with one another and the land. Non-Indigenous facilitators responding to the call to respectfully engage with Indigenous Knowledges require guidance from Indigenous teachers and mentors to avoid misappropriation and tokenization. As the curriculum addresses gender, sexuality, race, and colonialism, facilitators are also prompted to reflect on their social position and how this might affect classroom discussions. The Dating Safe Guide provides helpful tips to support teachers and community-based facilitators in personalizing their place on the land, creating opportunities for having difficult conversations, and equitable exchanges with youth when discussing intersecting forms of oppression. 

When asked to share promising practices from the program, lead Dating Safe Facilitator, Ry Sword Avola, brought up the significance of engaging with Indigenous ways of knowing and being as a settler in the classroom: 


“I would want to emphasize the importance of a circle. Some students feel very exposed and vulnerable in a circle without desks in front of them. So, I think setting up the container... but also naming and challenging the power dynamics that students have to live through in school all the time and in their homes... and giving them a space to openly challenge that power and give them a lot of control and ability to shape the space.” 


Over the last five years, students and teachers have shared their continued gratitude for the supportive tools and tips concerning violence prevention and the promotion of healthy relationships. In 2022, our partnering evaluation team, Reciprocal Consulting, found that 84% of Grade 8-10 students in the program reported that they increased their knowledge and/or skills, while 81% know who they can go to seek support in preventing and responding to dating violence. One counsellor in Surrey shared their appreciation for the Dating Safe program: 


“I feel that the topics discussed and conversations that arise from your program are so important for our students [and] staff. I would very much appreciate any information you may be able to provide on coordinating these opportunities for my school."  


The evaluation results gathered hold implications for policy and practice, as they speak to a broader gap in teacher education and training programs that needs to be addressed. Although it is now mandated within the B.C. curriculum (2019), beginning in Grade 8, that physical education teachers “propose strategies for developing and maintaining healthy relationships,” we see that teachers continue to face barriers in discussing and delivering content on dating violence. To respond to this need in the community, YWCA Dating Safe has developed a Train the Trainer workshop (both online and in-person) to further aid teachers and facilitators of youth programs engaged in violence prevention work. 



Join us to learn from Dating Safe’s lead facilitator, Ry Sword Avola (they/he), as they walk us through the YWCA Dating Safe Curriculum. They will share their knowledge on the program's delivery and approach and provide relevant tips and resources to support facilitators in ensuring an accessible environment for youth of all genders.  
Ry Sword Avola (they/he) is a queer descendant of Anglo-Celt and Sicilian settlers living on the unceded Squamish, Musqueam, and Tsleil-Waututh territories. Ry is an artist, facilitator, and organizer that helps develop and deliver social justice, emotional literacy, and healthy relationship education.   


To join us,



YWCA’s Dating Safe program aims to provide youth with the knowledge and skills necessary to develop healthy relationships that are free from violence and abuse. Learn more at YWCA Dating Safe page.


Dating Safe receives financial contribution from the Public Health Agency of Canada.   



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