February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month
Many people identify Hope House of South Central Wisconsin as an abuse shelter. Some people know that Hope House provides free services to people affected by domestic/dating violence and sexual assault, such as counseling, legal assistance, support groups, and resources and referrals. Perhaps fewer people realize that we provide community education to try to prevent abusive relationships.
As Hope House’s Community Education Coordinator, I gave approximately 245 presentations last school year to 55 different schools in Hope House’s five-county service area. Many of these presentations were about healthy relationships and dating violence.
Some research suggests as many as 1 in 3 teens will be a victim of dating violence. Many times the abusive partner goes to the same school. Common warning signs of dating violence include a partner constantly checking up on the teen through calls and texts, acting jealous, possessive, or controlling, calling the teen degrading names, telling the teen what they can wear, pressuring the teen into sexual activity or asking for sexual photos, not wanting the teen to hang out with friends or family, believing they can make all the decisions in the relationship, making the teen afraid to disagree, and blaming the teen for things they didn’t do.
Most teens I talk with know of some forms of dating abuse – physical, verbal, emotional, and sexual. But there is much they have not yet learned. Usually when I ask teens how they would help a friend that was being abused, I get blank stares or someone shouts out “I would beat the guy up” or “I’d force my friend to break up with his psycho girlfriend.” We then have conversation about how violence doesn’t end violence, and if we force our friend to break up, we are acting controlling, similar to the abusive partner. Instead, we should be supportive, non-judgmental, and direct our friend to resources.
In addition to offering Hope House as a free resource, friends and family of teens in abusive relationships could suggest the teen talk with a trusted adult and show the teen helpful online resources. I recommend the website LoveIsRespect.org as it has much information on healthy and abusive relationships and a national helpline with an online chat and texting option.
Starting to have conversations about healthy relationships with children as young as the elementary level is helpful. Modeling respectful and trusting relationships is essential.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, please call Hope House at 1-800-584-6790 to receive support. If you are interested in learning about ways to promote healthy relationships or to support Hope House, please visit HopeHouseSCW.org or call me at 608-356-9123.
Jess Kaehny, Community Education Coordinator, Hope House