Building a Movement to End Relationship Violence


Katie Hood, CEO of One Love, is speaking at a panel on building a movement at Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit.


The One Love Foundation was started in 2010 after Yeardley Love, a University of Virginia senior, was beaten to death by her ex-boyfriend just weeks before their graduation. After her death, her family and friends were shocked to learn the statistics that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men will be in an abusive relationship in his or her lifetime and that young women ages 16-24 are at 3X greater risk. Today the foundation works to end relationship abuse by educating young people about healthy and unhealthy relationship behaviors and empowering them to be leaders driving a movement for change.


One Love’s work to spark a national movement only began about a year ago, although this progressive vision was first seeded by Sharon Love in 2012. Sharon saw what Mothers Against Drunk Driving had done for the issue of driving under the influence by empowering bystanders to take away the keys. She wanted to replicate this approach for relationship abuse, namely shifting the stigma from the abused to the abuser and teaching friends to intervene. Everything that Sharon envisioned spoke to treating relationship violence as the public health issue that it is – an issue that once exposed to, we all realize we have a personal connection to.


By 2014, One Love had created a breakthrough tool, the Escalation Workshop, which was unlike any other existing educational resource. The film depicted relationship abuse in a highly-relatable and authentic way, so much so that the young people who view it are often left feeling that they have witnessed relationship abuse before. Young people recognize the behaviors in the film and identify with the characters. After finishing the workshop, nearly all who participate want to immediately share their new knowledge and practical understanding of this issue with their friends.


In the last two years, we have been working to turn education into a movement as we engage with thousands of young people in communities across the country and millions more online through our #ThatsNotLove digital campaign.

Our goal is simple – inspire this generation to be the leaders of a movement to change the statistics around relationship violence.

While my time at the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research gave me experience in setting big goals and thinking creatively about how to achieve them, my team and I are most certainly new to the area of movement building and there is no master plan we follow. To put it simply, we are learning as we go. We are innovators and creators, always adapting based on the needs of our constituents. That is not to say that we haven’t learned some core fundamentals about movement building over the past few years. Our learnings so far have been critical to our pace of progress and hopefully can be useful to others thinking about movement building, too.


We all have a selfish interest in ending relationship abuse. Given the statistics, the chances are very high that you or someone you’re close to has been in an abusive relationship – or at the very least an unhealthy one. The prevalence of the issue and the horrible effect it has on violence in future generations make it an issue of public health, much like driving under the influence. Most of our work focuses on highlighting the issues that comprise emotional abuse, a gateway abuse for physical and sexual abuse, that too many of us don’t completely understand. We believe that by opening people’s eyes to the fact that they know abuse personally, we can activate their voices and create stigma around emotional abuse that doesn’t exist today. The best model of this is smoking cigarettes. Just think – less than 20 years ago, it was “cool” to smoke, yet now smoking is a behavior that has been stigmatized. We want to do the same thing with emotional abuse. Our bold belief that stigma creation can help reduce the statistics around relationship violence is a direct result of us being able to witness firsthand what happens when someone’s selfish interest fires them up to join our movement and take action.

And while no abusive relationship is exactly the same, there are common patterns and experiences that present a powerful opportunity to rally around. We constantly communicate that Yeardley’s story is just one of many, that this issue is ever-present and impacts all communities—no matter how big or small. Joining the movement to end relationship violence isn’t something you do to help others somewhere else. It is something you do to help yourself and your friends.


When building a movement, timing is everything. Escalation’s launch could not have happened at a better time given the national media attention surrounding domestic violence after Ray Rice’s elevator incident. The NFL’s handling of the case brought this issue to the forefront and suddenly a topic that was rarely spoken about was being discussed openly on a daily basis everywhere you turned. It felt like a giant opportunity – an opening in the universe so to speak – as we watched the entire country shift their attention toward this issue and wonder what they could do about it. Timing dictated the pace of our growth. We communicated a degree of urgency to supporters about wanting to engage young people in the moment while attention was high, versus losing momentum and perhaps missing an opportunity to engage. As a result of cultivating this opportunity, One Love has expanded incredibly quickly over the past few years.


If you create content that is useful to your constituents, they will take it from there. Above my desk is a piece of paper on which is written “Be a provider of something that is of use to them.” This phrase says everything about what we must do to be successful. One Love’s growth in the last year has been largely due to our ability to create useful content with practical relevance that our constituents want to consume. Our ability to create such content is based nearly entirely on our capacity to generate, listen to our target’s feedback and modify our approach as needed. In our Escalation workshop, we focus primarily on educating about the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships as opposed to emphasizing words like “violence” and “abuse” because we saw first-hand how people disengage once they hear those terms. We understood that in order to meet young people where they are, we had to push our content on social media. We heard the demand for greater diversity than the story shown in Escalation, and so we created the #ThatsNotLove campaign, which in just one year has over 32 million views and hundreds of thousands of shares. More recently, we’ve begun providing tips and stories through our blog, responding to our audience’s appetite for practical information. Because the content is engaging and useful, young people have an innate desire to share it and recruit others, which creates a remarkable opportunity for movement building.


Stories are powerful educational tools, but the story of the movement must be told as well. Stories help people learn and remember the teaching value. But they also help people emotionally connect to an issue. Yeardley’s family always thought that sharing her story was a way to give others information about abusive relationships that she and her friends and family did not have. In creating Escalation, One Love moved from telling just Yeardley’s story to telling the story of a fictional couple – Paige and Chase – and those around them. At the conclusion of Escalation, the faces of more than twenty young people who have lost their lives to relationship violence appear on the screen, leaving the audience with an understanding of how prevalent this issue truly is. And while the stories of tragedy ground us in the significance of this epidemic, the stories of Team One Love’s action in communities across the country inspire us.

Stories of action are all around us. When UVA and BC student athletes Caroline Seats, Covie Stanwick and Molly Erdle came to us with an idea about honoring Yeardley and raising awareness about One Love’s work by getting each of their teams to run a million Yards for Yeardley, we saw it as an opportunity to spark large-scale involvement. We encouraged them to look beyond their own schools to see if they could challenge teams across the country to each run a million yards in pre-season training as a way to honor Yeardley and build awareness around the movement to end relationship violence. By the end of their first day recruiting, 8 teams had joined. By the end of the first week, 40 teams had joined. By the end of the month, it was 150 teams. Yards for Yeardley has now become an annual initiative led by athletes and coaches across the country as a way to raise awareness about relationship abuse. Thousands of students have gone on to run, walk, or pull weights as a way to raise awareness around relationship abuse.

We also are inspired by the young people who after participating in the Escalation workshop embrace their creative side by developing their own content. At Texas Tech, students hosted a One Love Week—a full week of events to teach others about relationship abuse—and pulled together an artfully-crafted video of students’ responses to the workshop and week. Kelsey, a student at Ohio State, reached out after watching our #ThatsNotLove videos, eager to be involved. As a dance major, she was inspired to create her own version of a #ThatsNotLove video by choreographing a dance interpretation of relationship abuse and enlisting the help of her fellow dance majors to make it come to life. At Buffalo State, a group of trained facilitators decided to create videos that focused on men as victims of relationship abuse to highlight and raise awareness around a form of abuse that sometimes goes unnoticed.

These stories of action are powerful models of what one person can do, and we hope to tell many more of these stories in the years to come.


Open your brand and movement up to co-creation – even if it feels risky. We’re operating in a different world than that from which prior movements were born. Our target demographic—largely millennials—grew up with fast internet at their fingertips, likely had their first mobile phone in middle school and have watched their peers broadcast their individual thoughts and opinions on social media channels since they learned how to type. Everyone has a voice now. And with multiple interests, causes and movements competing for their time, they no longer expect to just be heard in a movement, they expect to co-create the movement. So we let them.

Letting go of the reigns and entrusting your brand in someone else’s hands can be scary and nerve-wracking, but it’s necessary in building successful movements that have life beyond your organization. Why? Because co-creation makes it even more personal, increases social currency and raises the stakes for those involved; leading them to invest more of their time, energy and creativity in getting this done. 

Co-creation also makes the movement inherently more authentic – even more about YOU than it is about us. Co-creation enables us to model the healthy relationships we teach in all of our interactions. We could control the messages and force-feed a narrative if we wanted to, but it wouldn’t get us very far. Instead, we allow our co-creators to share their interpretations of relationship abuse, which has a trickle-down effect that brings more people into the movement. It also gives us insights and ideas on how to adapt and create more relevant and relatable content. A win-win.

Relationship abuse is truly an issue that every one of us - including young people and the people who love them – has a selfish interest in fixing. Every one of us can make a difference by choosing to participate in a way that makes sense in our community. It is this collective decision to join One Love that will turn our innovative and important educational work into a true movement for change. It is your energy, passion and determination that will enable you to help your friends, create healthier communities, and ultimately change the statistics around relationship abuse. One Love is just here to get the ball rolling – and then get out of the way!

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