More than 100 teenage students in Hays County will participate in a mock trial dealing with dating violence on February 25 as community leaders and legal professionals seek to bring awareness to a serious and all-too-common problem. “This is an excellent opportunity for students to experience the workings of the justice system while learning the dynamics and warning signs of dating violence,” said Associate District Judge Brenda K. Smith in a press release. Smith, who volunteers to work with these students, plays the judge of the mock trial.

This year marks Dripping Springs’ fourth time to conduct the mock trial, which is a collaboration of the Hays County District Attorney’s Office, area district judges, the Hays-Caldwell Women’s Center, the Hays County Bar Association, the Law Offices of Sarah K. Brandon, and the Dripping Springs Independent School District.

Students from Dripping Springs High School have created the Dating Violence Awareness Advocacy Board to raise awareness of dating violence. One of its first initiatives is an outreach program titled “First Love Yourself” in which students are taught to respect themselves and to realize that they deserve to be treated well.

“The reason why dating violence occurs is control,” said attorney Sarah Brandon, who started the mock trial program in Hays County after reading about a similar event in Travis County. “One teenager or student wants control over the other, and when that student doesn’t feel in control, he or she acts out in either a threatening manner or an actual assault.” The mock trial is a way for students to learn about warning signs that can lead to violence and why it is important to report this behavior. “We have found that the reason why it is not reported is out of embarrassment or shame,” said Brandon. “How does a student explain why he or she would continue in a relationship with someone who has been abusive?”

During the mock trial, students will participate as the victim, alleged perpetrator, lawyers, witnesses, and jurors. Local legal professionals and experts in domestic violence issues will provide assistance as the students gain insights into the emotional issue that has seemingly become more widespread through high-profile cases dealing with celebrities and sports figures.

“We have found the mock trial setting to be engaging for students and an effective way for professionals in the justice system to have a positive impact on students,” said Brandon. “The program can save lives.”

The mock trial is open to the public and will be held February 25 at 9 a.m. in a courtroom in the Hays County Government Center, 712 S. Stagecoach Tr., San Marcos 78666.