An exciting new partnership was announced last month between the Cronulla Sharks and Love Bites in the Sutherland Shire! As part of this partnership, Sutherland Shire Family Services will receive funding for a part time Love Bites coordinator in their area. In addition to this, Sharks Co-Captain Wade Graham has volunteered his time in becoming an ambassador for the program.
The launch featured a powerful video presentation from students at Menai High School as well as the inaugural Sutherland Love Bites Creative Arts Excellence Award where participating schools can submit reflective creative works from either the Love Bites workshops or other classes throughout the year.
Amber Schacht, the Sutherland Shire Love Bites Coordinator, spoke passionately at the event and eloquently captured the essence of the Love Bites program. A copy of her speech is included below:
Good afternoon and thank you all for being here today. I am Amber Schacht, the Coordinator of the Love Bites program here in the Sutherland Shire. A special thank you to the Cronulla Shark – Sharks have Hearts – for partnering with Sutherland Shire Family Services and the Love Bites Program. I am also honoured to welcome many distinguished guests and supporters of Love Bites.
Although many of you know the Love Bites program well, when thinking about my speech, I thought it critically important to explain what the Love Bites program is so that everyone in the room was aware of the incredible program that Sharks are partnering up with. Now, I can easily tell you, in a very succinct way with carefully chosen words what the Love Bites Program is – and it would be impressive. But I thought I would look at it a bit differently. Let me first tell you what it isn’t.
Love Bites is not a token program about Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault prevention to simply just check off a list. It is not instructing or teaching students what they should and shouldn’t do in a relationship. It is not a one-way street where those running the program have all the answers and participants are passive listeners. It is not a one-off conversation about tough topics. No. Love Bites is none of those things.
Love Bites is dynamic. It is a program that takes on a new life every time it is delivered. It adapts and changes according to the people in the room. It is a program where passionate professionals engage with the ideas, views and opinions of young people to discuss and explore what a respectful relationship looks like. It is a program that raises awareness around the endemic issues of DV and sexual assault, of course, but also has space for humour and fun, too. It is interactive, confronting and causes lots of ‘light-bulb’ moments for young people. It is planting the seeds for respectful relationships and as many of our schools are doing lots of heavy lifting in this area with their young people, it is also watering those seeds. It is collaborating with schools, community organisations, law enforcement, funding bodies, local businesses and sporting clubs to make a huge positive and lasting impact for our future. Sure, Love Bites is a ‘highly-successful school-based Domestic and Family Violence and Sexual Assault prevention program’, but as you can see, it is much, much more than that.
Since 2013 when I came on board as the Love Bites coordinator, the program has seen tremendous growth and demand here in the Shire. I attribute that to the early pioneers of this program here in the Sutherland Shire, including our very own Diane Manns, seeing the need for a centralised coordination point for the schools, facilitators and community organisations and earmarking some of the precious donations that came in to SSFS to fund this role. Council played a huge role that year as well in granting money for a large training for new facilitators in the area and schools began to hear through the grape vine about this great program. Whereas I used to spend time calling schools to persuade them to give Love Bites a go, I now spend much of my time training new facilitators, going in to do staff trainings with schools, organising the many schools we have already in our calendars (often 12 months in advance), and of course, my favourite part of my role – facilitating the program with the amazing young people we have here in the Shire.
The three main sessions we run with young people all centred on respectful relationships. There are two interactive educative sessions. The first on domestic and family violence and the second looking at sexual assault and consent. We look at real life examples of relationship violence for teenagers and talk about what behaviours cross the line for them. We look at gender stereotypes and deconstruct myths in the community. We talk about how they have the power to make the difference in their lives and the lives of those around them.
After these sessions are done, young people participate in a creative session. Students are able to process what they have just engaged with, creatively express their ideas and share their thoughts through art, poetry, songs and the like. We are pleased to show you a few highlights of these projects from some of last year’s participants.
During this creative session, we often get disclosures from students. They tell us what they are going through, confide in us about family and relationship issues and sometimes just let us know that we have validated an experience they had in the past. Sometimes this is the re-telling of events that are already known to the school, and sometimes, these are new disclosures.
As I previously stated, the facilitators of the Love Bites program are professionals in the field. Youth workers, sexual assault counsellors, domestic and family violence caseworkers, police, adolescent psychologists, family and community services workers and more. Being able to be real, open and honest with young people, we show we are trustworthy, keen to help them and in the positions to do so. That we are real people and have a real passion to see them achieve healthy futures for themselves and their families. And they respond. I am often humbled by the responses we get. The young people open up to us after participating. They engage with us and the various services represented way beyond the day we spend with them. They trust us with intimate details of their struggles and traumas. They share their new revelations with family and friends and tell us that they choose respect. They laugh, they have fun, they let their guard down.
We know that 1 in 3 women will experience physical violence from the age of 15 here in Australia. 1 in 6 Australian women will experience physical or sexual violence at the hands of a current or former partner. 1 in 4 of us will experience that abuse and fear on an emotional or psychological level. One woman a week dies in Australia at the hands of a current or former intimate partner, and this year, it has actually been more than that. Yes – this stuff is tough, but we can work together to overcome it and ultimately prevent it. Love Bites has a large part to play in this.
Before I conclude, I am proud to announce that Sharks are supporting a new initiative for this years Love Bites program – The Love Bites Reflections Award. This award will recognise the creative talents of students who participate in the Love Bites programs. Sharks have donated the major prize valued at over $500 for the winning entry, which will be awarded at the end of the Year. We look forward to seeing the incredible submissions and to working with Sharks in showcasing those later in the year.
I just like to thank Sutherland Shire Family Services in seeing the value of Love Bites and taking it under its umbrella. For living out their vision – partner with families (in this case, young people), facilitate change and promote hope. For the amazing facilitators who commit their time, energy and passion to making a difference for us all. And to the young people who share with us, laugh with us, cry with us and ultimately blow us away. Thank you again to Sharks Have Heart for partnering with us on this journey. I am honoured to be a part of this great team. Thank you.
You can read more about the partnership and watch the video, here.