By Marian Firke
MCASA Program Coordinator (Prevention and Education)
Web mini series can be an effective and powerful way to start difficult and challenging prevention conversations with young people. Freely available online, these digital TV series offer current perspectives on issues facing youth and provide easy-to-access, short-form content. Web series can highlight everything from misconceptions about sexual violence to the nuances of trauma response. By providing information about sexual violence and rape culture in an accessible, familiar format, these web series can help viewers to begin talking about sexual assault in new ways. As peer groups shift their perceptions together, they can effect cultural change in their communities.
Grounding discussions of sexual violence in media also provides a strong foundation for ensuring programs incorporate . These principles, which outline considerations for ensuring that prevention programs meet their objectives, serve to ground prevention efforts in evidence as new programs are developed. Web series lend themselves to approaches that reflect the nine principles. Since series are by nature episodic, it is natural to design discussion programs that include several pieces over a period of weeks. As a group comes together to view and discuss an episode together, the serial nature of some programs can ensure a program has sufficient dosage to be effective. As increasingly diverse media offerings are produced, web series are becoming more and more socioculturally appropriate. In particular, having youth involved in the writing, production, and performance of these shows has helped these options move away from out-of-touch stereotypes frequently seen in health-class documentaries. As adolescents begin consuming more and more media, using media as a teaching tool creates an opportunity for appropriately timed prevention efforts that build relationships between youth and their group leaders.
Jessica Seipel, who serves as Prevention Education Coordinator & Trauma Counselor at Rape Trauma Services in Burlingame, CA, has had good results using media-based discussion in prevention programming with adolescent girls in detention. In particular, she has used The Halls
, a series that follows three high-school men as rumors that a student was sexually assaulted begin to circulate through their community. The Halls
is described in more detail below.
I asked Jessica to share a little more about her experience with using The Halls
as a teaching tool.
MF: How do you use The Halls in your programs?
JS: We use The Halls
for our classroom prevention education at the girls program at the juvenile detention facility. In each workshop, we watch an episode of The Halls
and then have a group discussion about the content and themes presented in the episode.
MF: Do youth find the program relatable? Does it work better with some audiences than others?
JS: The participants overwhelmingly describe The Halls
as very relatable to issues that they cope with in their own lives. Because The Halls
stars youth of color, many of the participants can identify with the characters. We have not tried using The Halls
with any audiences other than incarcerated youth, so although we can't speak to whether it can be transferable to other communities, we can say that many of the issues presented within The Halls
- sexual abuse, teen parenting, healthy communication, discrimination, etc - are universal.
MF: How does the web series help you to open up challenging discussions?
JS: Using a web series, rather than anecdotes or concepts, allows for participants to explore issues around the consent and the cycle of violence through characters. Because so many of the youth at detention facilities have long histories of complex trauma, using The Halls
can create some safety in discussion so that participants do not feel compelled to self-disclose.
MF: What advice do you have for other preventionists who are considering using a web series in their programs?
JS: Because The Halls
is a web series, the facility must have web access! This can definitely be a challenge. Some of the content with The Halls can also be very triggering for survivors in the room so it's crucial to present warnings for those scenes as well as offering individual support if needed.
There are many promising web series options available for preventionists interested in using a media-oriented approach. Three particularly strong options are profiled below. These series and documentaries are all free resources that are available for programs to use without cost.
Set in Boston, The Halls
is a series that follows three high-school men as rumors that a student was sexually assaulted begin to circulate through their community. In addition to the episodes themselves, the website for the series also includes resources
, including a facilitator discussion guide that can be useful for program coordinators seeking to develop curricular and evaluation resources for a media-based program. Other resources include links to area programs, including the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC)
, in order to provide viewers with the support they may need to respond to the show’s content.
The Story of Victor and Erika
The Story of Victor and Erika
is a web series specifically for Latino/a youth produced by Adelante, a partnership between the Avance Center at George Washington University and the Maryland Multicultural Youth Centers. The series portrays youth in Langley Park, Maryland, and the ways in which they address the challenges they are facing. The series’ themes include family, sexual violence, and asking for help. While the partnership aims to promote public health messages, including promoting the availability of behavioral and sexual health services, the young people who act in the series are community members and played a critical role in developing the series.
is a collaborative documentary filmmaking project started by students and faculty at five colleges and universities. The films highlight different aspects of rape culture, trauma response, and gender equity. While the Pact5
features are not all linked together by plot in the same way as a web series, the broad range of offerings available makes these films a potential alternative to plot-based series. This may be particularly helpful in cases where participants may not attend every week or session of a discussion, since even newcomers or students who miss a week can still be engaged. The films are produced for and by college students, but may also be suitable for older high school students.
This article was featured in the Fall 2015 issue