Preventing teen dating violence

    A new study from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia shows that abusive relationships are common among high school students. Education and outreach measures in our region are aimed at protecting this group – from WHYY’s Behavioral Health Desk, Maiken Scott reports.

    A new study from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia shows that abusive relationships are common among high school students. Education and outreach measures in our region are aimed at protecting this group – from WHYY’s Behavioral Health Desk, Maiken Scott reports.

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    Transcript of the radio report:

    Researchers asked 910 students at three urban colleges if they have experienced emotional, physical or sexual violence before or during college:

    “what we wanted to find out is basically is this happening early in adolescence or later in adolescence?”

    Christine Forke is research director for the division of adolescent medicine at Children’s Hospital, and the lead author for this study:

    “all of the rates were higher for students before college than they were during college, and the highest form was emotional violence and that was both for men and women”

    They asked the students about violence inflicted by partners, friends and strangers, and in most cases, the abuser was an intimate partner. For example, before college 17 percent of women and 8 percent of men reported having experienced physical violence. during college the rates dropped to 10 percent for women and 3 percent for men.

    Women Against Abuse runs a program at the Parkway school for Peace in the Germantown section of Philadelphia — it focuses on peer education for 13-18 year olds.

    “by and large kids are not going to talk to adults about relationships, so that’s why we focus on doing the peer based education because we want them to be able to go to ther peers”

    Heather Keefer of Women Against Abuse says the program teaches kids how to handle dangerous dating situations:

    “what to do if this happens, or feelings of if this does happen does this make me a bad person, some people may think that they deserve it, so really working with the student’s self-esteem and respect issues”

    In Wilmington Delaware, John Dickinson High School has implemented a pilot program to educate its students about dating violence. Jennifer Penoza of Delaware’s Child Inc. teaches 9th graders about different forms of relationship violence.

    “a lot of time what they feel an abusive relationship constitutes is physical abuse. If somebody is being hit or punched or pushed around then they are in an abusive relationship. Although they can identify the fact that there is also verbal abuse, It’s harder for them to differentiate when a relationship becomes abusive, it’s still, they haven’t been hit yet, or pushed yet.”

    Penoza covers topics like jealousy, and tries to teach students how to distinguish between loving and controlling behaviors:

    “oh, if somebody really cares about me, they will want to know where I am or who I’m talking to or what I’m doing, and maybe that’s true to a certain extend, however a lot of times what they are seeing is somebody accusing them of constantly flirting with other people behind their back, and trying to track them down find out where they are, who they are hanging out with calling them on the cell phone 30 times, or sending them 10, 20 30 text messages”

    If a Delaware teen feels threatened by this kind of obsessive behavior they can now take their concern to family court. Last year, Delaware passed legislation that extends civil protections to teens in abusive relationships. Dana Harrington Conner is director of the Delaware Civil Clinic at Widener School of Law:

    “so now a teen can get a civil protective order that requires that the perpetrator to stay away from them and have no contact with them, the other good news is that acts of violence that would not necessarily be considered criminal are covered and it gives the teen another avenue of relief if they don’t want to file criminal charges for some reason” 20

    Therapist Dawn Schatz has been working with teens who were in abusive relationships for years

    “many victims suffer from depression and anxiety, they are definitely at an increased risk for suicide or thinking about suicide, turning to alcohol and drugs to cope, it can be very over whelming to be abused by somebody that you care about.”

    Victims can also experience post-traumatic stress disorder, and school performance suffers.

    Schatz explains that in the case of abusers, without intervention, one abusive relationship usually leads to the next:

    “and they will continue to have relationships in which their partners are afraid of them, or don’t feel that they can be themselves, or don’t have the respect that they deserve.”.

    Schatz says parents are often unaware that their child is an abusive relationship and it’s important for them to stay calm if a teen turns to them with this kind of problem.

    “what do you need from me, do you need help, do you want to talk to somebody else, do you need me to intervene, to give some power to the teen and not just jump in and rescue.”

    Schatz advises parents to discuss issues like respect and healthy relationships in a general context early on, before they start dating – from WHYY’s Behavioral Health Desk, I’m Maiken Scott

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