February kicks off Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (Teen DV Month), a movement to help spread awareness about teen dating violence. Abuse in teen relationships is a national problem affecting our youths in every community crossing all backgrounds. One in three adolescents in the U.S. will experience physical, sexual or emotional abuse by someone they are in a relationship with before they become adults, a figure that far exceeds rates of other types of youth violence; see www.loveisrespect.org.

Girls and young women are highly affected by this problem. Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence — almost triple the national average, see www.loveisrespect.org/resources/dating-violence-statistics/. It is important for the community to be aware of these issues to help protect our teens.

“Many believe that dating or domestic violence only happens in adult relationships, discounting the possibility of teen dating violence even existing. Just like intimate partner violence affects individuals regardless of race, religion, or socio-economic status, it also affects people of all ages including millions of teens across the U.S.,” says Juan Lopez, Director of Prevention Education at Empower Yolo.

Several schools in Yolo County are actively trying to address this problem head on by incorporating prevention education programs such as Empower Yolo’s “My Strength” and “Be Strong” program into their curriculum. Healthy relationships are important to address in schools because violent behavior typically begins between the ages of 12 and 18, see www.loveisrespect.org/resources/dating-violence-statistics/. An abusive relationship at a young age can have a long lasting effect for a teenager. Violent relationships in adolescence can have serious ramifications by putting the victims at higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior and further domestic violence, see www.loveisrespect.org/resources/dating-violence-statistics/.

Empower Yolo’s Prevention Education Program is focused on promoting healthy relationships and preventing abuse in teen relationships. This is achieved through weekly “My Strength” boy groups, “Be Strong” girl groups, and “Our Strength” gender inclusive groups. Group topics cover a range of issues including abuse types, date rape, predatory drugs, teen dating violence, healthy relationships, and bystander intervention.

At Emerson Junior High School in Davis the Peer Helping Program incorporates violence prevention education into its curriculum. “Peer helping is about helping provide and support a positive climate at school and in our community. It is also about service and reaching outside of ourselves to make this community and world a better place,” says Jennifer Terra, Peer Helping Teacher for Emerson/Da Vinci.

Lopez and “Be Strong” prevention educators, Geneva Green and Aimee Seaborn present to the class once a week to talk about healthy relationships and gender stereotypes.

Supporting Teen DV Month is important for teens, parents, and educators to help with the lack of awareness in the community. Eighty-one (81) percent of parents believe teen-dating violence is not an issue or admit they don’t know if it’s an issue, see www.loveisrespect.org/resources/dating-violence-statistics/.

It’s important to give our youths an outlet at school to discuss healthy relationships and feel safe to confide in a peer, or talk with a teacher or counselor. Only 33% of teens who were in a violent relationship ever told anyone about the abuse, see www.loveisrespect.org/resources/dating-violence-statistics/. Through the Peer Helping Program many of the students at Emerson have the safe space to discuss healthy relationships and other important topics such as teen dating violence, cyber bullying, and stereotyping. “Empower Yolo provides a platform for these teens to learn how to be healthy for themselves and others. They are also helping the students form deeper bonds with each other,” says Terra.

The program at Emerson has proven success. “The students can learn or have reinforced what a healthy relationship looks like – the qualities, actions, motives, words, boundaries, communication, and consent in its many forms. The students shared some of their insights about the importance of discussing healthy relationships: ‘to be a good partner’, ‘to be a good friend’, ‘to recognize unhealthy relationships’, ‘so you don’t make a mistake’, ‘to recognize when a relationship is unhealthy’,” says Terra.

The students are eager to participate and discuss important topics that affect their relationships. Discussing healthy relationships is important “to make good decisions in the future and learn how to interact with other people,” says peer helper, Mitchell Fong. “It’s important for me so that I know that I’m not in an unhealthy relationship whether it’s a friendship, romantic, or colleague relationship; this class gives me great tools to help me live my life now and in the future,” adds peer helper, Skye Falyn.

Take the time to discuss healthy relationships with your teens. Make sure they are feeling safe; that they are treating others with respect; and they know where to access resources and support if they need it. At Emerson the students are given resources for support including: counselors, crisis counselors, teachers, peer helpers, hotlines and Empower Yolo staff.

“Signs a teen may be in an unhealthy relationship are: controlling behavior, quick involvement, extreme jealousy, and checking each others’ cell phones or social media accounts’ private messages,” says Lopez.

If you are not feeling safe in your relationship, or you believe your teen may be in an unhealthy relationship please seek out resources for support like a school counselor, or reach out to Empower Yolo.

Empower Yolo offers many free services, which are available to teens including legal services, counseling and shelter. Teens or parents can call our 24-hour crisis line at 530-662-1133 in the event of a crisis, or to gain more insight into this problem.

In the 2017-2018 school year Empower Yolo provided prevention education to 4,721 students in Yolo county schools.

– These presentations were held for multiple teachers and students at: Pioneer High School, Woodland High School, Holmes Jr. High School, Emerson Jr. High School, Davis High, Cache Creek High, Martin Luther King, Jr. High, River City High, Winters High, and Yolo Juvenile Detention Facility.

– The prevention team also coordinated “My Strength” groups in six Yolo County Schools including: Woodland High School, Pioneer High School, Holmes Jr. High School, Emerson Jr. High School, River City High School, and Cache Creek High School.

– In addition, the team facilitated “Be Strong” groups at Woodland High School, Pioneer High School, Holmes Jr. High School, Emerson Jr. High School, and River City High School.

– “Our Strength” gender inclusive prevention programs were facilitated at River City High School (2 groups) and Martin Luther King, Jr. High School in Davis.

– In all, the prevention team facilitated 33 groups of eight weeks or more in Yolo county schools in the 2017-2018 school year.  The hope is to further expand the program to reach more teens.

To help raise awareness during Teen DV Month please support our efforts in the following ways: 1) donate at empoweryolo.org to our Prevention Education Program, which is currently only partially funded; 2) wear orange on Tuesday, February 12, in support of #Orange4Love Day to raise awareness about teen dating abuse; 3) participate in our Steve’s Pizza fundraiser in Davis (314 F Street) on Tuesday, February 26 from 5-9 p.m.; mention you are supporting Empower Yolo and a portion of proceeds will be donated to Empower Yolo’s Prevention Education Program; 4) donate gift cards from Steve’s Pizza for the students participating in the program for their end of the year event; 5) sponsor “My Strength” and “Be Strong” t-shirts for participants of the Peer Helping Program at Emerson.

For questions about teen dating violence or prevention education please contact Juan Lopez at [email protected], or Yee Xiong at [email protected] Teen dating violence has long-lasting effects on our teens that can set them up for physical and emotional problems into adulthood. Through early prevention education students gain more awareness of the issues and learn how to treat each other better. “The students are more aware of gender stereotyping and how each identified gender group feels about the box they are often put into. They are more aware of friends’ feelings and how they treat people. I believe that Empower Yolo promotes more kindness and empathy,” Terra said.

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