Providing Dating Violence Prevention Through Education
By Keith Martin, Assistant Editor
Often, the focus on school violence revolves around bullying and threats between one or more students who don't get along. However, a number of teens in our nation's schools are facing this same potentially dangerous treatment by those they have relationships with. Instead of finding love, many students are finding themselves in sometimes violent relationships with their peers.
"I'm not sure I'd say that [dating violence] is 'more prevalent' in the past decade - [we are more] sensitive to all type of violence in relationships today," says Dr. Gary Hansen, of the University of Kentucky - Cooperative Extension Service's
Department of Community and Leadership Development. "For example, with marriage and spousal abuse, we're more aware than a year or two ago. [The issue with] dating violence is that it is the way [teens] start to relate to their partners, so if they are exhibiting unhealthy or violent ways of relating [to each other now], that may start with dating and lead to other [actions] in the future."
While national studies indicate that anywhere between one-third and one-fifth of high school and college girls experience violence in an intimate relationship during their dating years, Hansen says firsthand interactions also indicate the scope of the issue.
"From my own experience working with teens, even if teaching [about similar] topics, they'll bring up [dating violence] and want to talk about it," he says. "A large number know somebody who has experienced some type of abuse in a relationship [or are somebody]."
With the topic in the forefront of so many young minds, a number of schools and community-based organizations have begun listening to teens about dating violence and giving them the skills to avoid potentially dangerous relationships. For Hansen, having such programs available for teens is not only a good idea, but also essential.
"You hear about the 'cycle of violence' from one generation to another, so it only makes sense to address this early on, so [teens can participate] in programs [and] we can make things better."
Being Proactive with Prevention
At the Catholic University of America's Families and the Law Clinic, college students work alongside faculty members on cases involving domestic violence and other family law issues. From assistance in obtaining a restraining order to representing domestic violence clients in general domestic relations litigation, participants assist a number of people walking through their front door involved in violent relationships.
To try and reduce the number of such clients, supervising attorneys and professors Catherine Klein and Margaret Barry decided to create a curriculum for high schools. Their dating violence prevention workshops would come into the classroom to educate young people about the cases they saw everyday and how to be in a happy, healthy relationship with peers.
"In representing victims of domestic violence in our clinical program, we were not doing anything to [prevent] the problem - we were coming in at the tail end," says Barry. "We wanted to be more proactive."
When they took their curriculum to Washington D.C. senior high schools, they quickly learned that one topic they planned to introduce was already familiar to their audience.
"A lot of the students were already dealing with domestic violence in relationships and even at home," adds Barry. "So we were not being as proactive as we hoped, but it gave us a chance to talk and help those not dealing with it yet."
According to Klein, the large number of students who indicated they knew someone in a violent relationship was balanced by a troubling number who kept quiet.
"A great number of these kids - about 25 percent - don't tell any adult, so in trying to realize [this issue], parents may not even know about it," she says.
The curriculum Klein and Barry developed several years ago is still being used each year in 15 public high schools in D.C. Spanning three days - one class period each day - the program first gets students to look at the dynamics of a violent relationship, through defining terms, role-playing and other methods.
The second class looks at how their community can assist. This includes an explanation of the legal process and interventions available to victims. The final day looks at how students can help themselves as well as others. Students explore how to help a friend and even an abuser through role plays and
brainstorm resources they can develop to help their peers.
Klein says that with so much attention on school violence and with reinforcement from national research, schools must step up to provide information to students and show them that support is there.
"[For adults to ignore addressing dating violence] is leaving teens to face the problem themselves that will get worse if we don't help," she says.
Barry said this kind or program is ideal for a school environment and lets kids know that there are answers for the troubling situations they may be experiencing.
"To not speak about [dating violence] in school is to sweep it under the rugs," she says. "For [schools] to send the message by not talking about it is dangerous."
Giving Teens Life and Law Lessons
To bring their curriculum to area high schools, students from Catholic University partner with peers from Georgetown University's D.C. Street Law Clinic. In addition to these future lawyers, representatives from the D.C. Domestic Violence Coordinating Council and D.C. Superior Court are also on hand for teens to see that there are people out there to help them.
"The way the lessons are developed, some are enlightened [by] having knowledgeable people there to discuss specific information," says Richard Roe, Program Director for the D.C. Street Law Clinic. "For example, a judge [will] explain how they get a civil protection order. That is very powerful and shows that judges will be sensitive to a teen's needs."
For Roe, such a curriculum is important for teens not only because it addresses an issue they face, but also shows them how it is dealt with - both personally and by the community around them.
"[These students] live in a civic world, so [they become] aware of societal questions and how to deal, in terms of 'this D.C. law says this' and 'this statute says this,'" he said. "It's important for kids to look at and understand [how] this pertains to all people."
In fact, adds Roe, the curriculum developed by Klein and Barry also gives teens an educational experience.
"It's so fascinating, because you can use it to increase their cognitive experience," he says. "It's not just information to walk away with. What they get out of it is important ideas they can use to develop their intellect and academic ability."
For example, towards the end of the program, students are asked to write a letter to a victim of domestic violence. In this exercise, says Roe, students not only get to talk to someone, but also use expressive language and interpret the law for another person.
"Good programs have an obligation to not only cover information, but to present it in a way [that provides] high quality education," says Roe. "When it is highly cognitive and highly intellectual, that's when schools work."
With this in mind, Roe shares the opinion of Klein and Barry that the classroom can be an ideal location to provide this information to teens. Through this particular program, he adds, differing points of view are welcome and often expressed, giving students a wide variety of perspectives instead of one that preaches only one view.
"The idea is not to come in with a set of value judgments and expect [students] to call them their own, but to engage them in a discussion of inappropriate behavior in dating situations and have them work on it," he says.
In Part Two of Time2Act's look at teen dating prevention on February 10th, we will introduce you to two organizations - 4-H and the Girl Scouts - that are bringing dating violence prevention programs to schools.
For more information on the Teen Dating Violence Prevention Program in Washington D.C., please e-mail Catherine Klein (Klein@cua.edu) or Margaret Barry (Barry@cua.edu).
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