DVS working to educate local teens about dating violence

By Megan Managan | Feb 06, 2015

The following article is the second in an eight-part series produced by The Beacon on domestic violence. Called the Domestic Violence Awareness Project, the series aims to educate our readers while offering information – and hope – to those needing help. – Ed.

By the time they are 18, one in three teen girls will have been in a violent relationship.

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and Jenny Wieland, the teen dating violence prevention education and community outreach coordinator with Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County, is gearing up to give presentations at local schools.

Wieland works year-round educating students and their families about what makes healthy relationships and what to do if students find themselves in bad situations.

This year is the first year DVS has been able to staff the position full time, thanks in part to grants from local businesses. This month, she is already booked for several presentations at local schools.

One of the presentations she uses is called "In Their Shoes: Teens and Dating Violence," which was developed by the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV,).

Wieland said it was funded in part by the parents of Dayna Fure, who was a student at Stanwood High School when she was killed by her ex-boyfriend in 2004.

"Our goal is to make a difference in the lives of others," said Melody Hafner, Fure's mother. “I feel that my daughter did what she thought was right, but many people that she went to for advice needed more knowledge.

“It is my hope that when people experience 'In Their Shoes' they get more information about what to look and listen for.”

Nan Stoops, the executive director of WSCADV, said abuse in teen relationships can look much different than it does in adult relationships, which means the way people respond to it also needs to be different.

Participants in the "In Their Shoes" program act out scenes as one of six teen characters, make choices about relationships, and move through various scenarios based on real teen experiences, including sexting, pregnancy, homophobia and stalking.

Wieland said one of the areas teens are most surprised about is sexting.

"One of the biggest lacks of knowledge from the students is the consequences of sexting, if they are arrested and successfully prosecuted – having to be a registered sex offender the rest of their lives," she said.

Other feedback from students has included how glad they were the presentation included scenarios for teens who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

"A lot of the kids say we should start this in the middle school," Weiland said. She said because kids will often go to each other before they approach an adult, her goal is to provide the tools and resources to help kids.

Other programs that Wieland has worked on with local groups include Safe Dates, which is an adolescent dating abuse prevention curriculum that deals with behaviors and attitudes associated with dating violence and abuse.

She said it helps teens recognize the difference between an abusive and healthy relationship, while teaching them how to handle anger, communicating and being a better friend.

While the goal of DVS is to end domestic abuse by providing a wide range of services, Wieland said working with educators helps to gain the confidence of those in the community who are affected.

"By partnering as educators, we will gain the confidence of victims and violators, which in turn can help to bring an end to the beginning of violence in these young people’s lives," she said.

Wieland said local schools have been extremely open to the DVS presentations, especially in recent years.

"The schools are welcoming our presentations far more than in past years due to actual domestic violence relationships at their school.

“The Edmonds School District, by the end of this school year, will have had presentations in all their high schools and middle schools," she said.

"I have the students fill out evaluations after presentations, and they reflect they did not have much knowledge about teen dating violence, and now know more and what kind of resources are available."

Wieland said it is important for parents to help teach their teens about self-respect before they starting dating, and how to be a good role model and to make a safety plan with their teen.

"Its really important to have the conversation, teaching them about self-respect and empowering them," Wieland said.

She said students should know what teen dating violence looks like, abusive or controlling behavior, what a healthy relationship looks like, and what are red flags.

The DVS hotline is available 24/7 for anyone with concerns, Wieland said, and friends can call if they have concerns about how to handle a situation.

She also said that friends can approach any school counselor about an issue like this and will remain anonymous.

Anyone interested in learning more about the services DVS offers, including presentations specific to teen dating, should visit the DVS website www.dvs-snoco.org.

Teens – What to do if you or a friend needs help

Here are some tips from the DVS website for teens, their friends and families.

Safety planning for teens in abusive relationships

• Stay in touch with friends and make a point to spend time with people other than your partner

• Stay involved in activities that you enjoy

• When at school, try not to be alone, let friends know what is happening, and have them walk you to class and spend time with you at lunch

• Tell teachers, counselors, coaches or security guards what is happening

• Change your routine, don't always come to school or leave at the same time, and always ride to school with someone.

• At home, try not to be alone, and consider telling your parents or other family members what is happening and make a list of important phone numbers, like 911 and supportive friends

• When with your partner, try not to be alone, go to public places and let other people know what your plans are and always keep extra change or a phone card on you

How to help a friend

If you have a friend in an abusive relationship, here are ways to help:

• Listen – let them talk without interruption or judgment

• Believe – tell them it is not their fault and they are not alone

• Know the warning signs – help your friend recognize the abuse by asking questions about what is happening and that it is not normal or acceptable

• Support your friend's strength – recognize the things they do to take care of themselves and encourage their courage

• Protect your friend's privacy – talk to them in a safe and private place and respect their right to keep it confidential

• Know your own limits – Dating violence is serious and you cannot rescue your friend. Give them the DVS number and encourage them to talk to an adult safety about the matter.

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