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Troy L. Wheeler

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Strategy: Reduce Teen Dating Violence

Abuse in a dating relationship can be confusing and frightening at any age. But for teenagers, this abuse can . . .

Abuse in a dating relationship can be confusing and frightening at any age. But for teenagers, this abuse can be even more difficult. Adolescence is a time for learning about relationships. Teens often fail to recognize abuse, especially emotional abuse, because they are inexperienced with dating and may have misperceptions about romantic love. Even if they recognize the abuse, they may hesitate to report it for fear of retaliation or embarrassment.

Possessiveness, controlling behavior, and verbal put-downs are common forms of verbal abuse. Physical abuse may involve pushing, slapping, hitting, pulling hair, threatening with a weapon, and sexual assault including rape. Teen dating violence can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation. Although more females report injuries from dating partners, males suffer emotional abuse at the same rate as females. Regardless of the form of abuse, it is always about the abuser's need for power and control, not the
worthiness or failure of the victim.

Building awareness is one of the best ways to combat teen dating violence. Young people need to know what a healthy relationship is, how to recognize abusive behavior in a dating partner, the negative effects that alcohol and other drug use can have on relationships, how to be assertive with a dating partner, and where to go if they feel unsafe. Crime prevention and domestic violence prevention specialists, parents, teachers, and community organizations can all help identify dating violence and support victims.

The STAR (Southside Teens About Respect) Program, part of the Metropolitan Family Services in Chicago, IL, is a comprehensive, community-based approach that works to reduce teen dating violence by increasing junior high school students' knowledge of its causes and solutions, changing attitudes that support relationship violence, and promoting peer leadership and activism. The program consists of both coed and single-sex sessions in which teens learn violence prevention skills through role plays, instructional videos, an anonymous question box, group discussions, and interactive exercises.

Each session is taught by two STAR educators, one male and one female, who work with assigned teachers in the classroom. Topics include communication (active listening and assertive statements), problem solving in dating situations, defining good male/female relationships, anger management, media messages in music and videos, and attitudes and behaviors conducive to dating. Students learn to identify gender stereotypes, recognize the cycle of violence, and identify the warning signs of an abusive relationship. The curriculum focuses on power and control issues, emphasizing the importance of saying no and taking no for an answer. Workshops for faculty and parents are also available.

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