Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

Somerville-based RESPOND takes action

By Tatiana Kombo

March 7, 2012

February was Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Once a hidden problem, teenage dating violence is currently getting substantial attention from the public. Indeed, the public discourse over abuse is gaining momentum as domestic abuse agencies increasingly emphasize intervention, prevention and education on this dangerous plague. Statistics indicate that teenage dating violence is on the rise, along with teenagers’ desensitization to, and acceptance of it. “In a 12 month period, one in 10 high school students nationwide reported they were physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriend or girlfriend,” said President Barack Obama in a presidential proclamation last month. “And still more experienced verbal or emotional abuse like shaming, bullying, or threats.” Inexperienced in dating or overwhelmed by conflicting emotions, teenagers often struggle to escape abusive relationships or even to recognize that they are caught in them.

Opting to try and tackle this issue, RESPOND, a Somerville-based domestic abuse organization that provides critical advocacy and assistance to victims of teen dating violence, put the focus on individual responsibility within a community struggle, striving to achieve its anti-violence mission through direct services promoting safety and healthiness within the young adult community. RESPOND is a recent recipient of the Powderhouse Award for Nonprofit of the Year from the Somerville Chamber of Commerce with reason. RESPOND’s recent enhanced emergency shelter program, for instance, has allowed hundreds to regain a sense of self-worth in a safe environment and a secure location. This February, RESPOND presented teen dating abuse seminars at high schools and hospitals throughout the greater Boston community. RESPOND staff provided education and information to thousands of youth at Somerville High School ; students learned about teen dating abuse, warning signs and risk factors of abuse, where to access resources and how to help a friend who may be experiencing abuse in their dating relationship. Jasmine Lopez, the Development & Communications Coordinator for RESPOND, filled me in on the organization’s campaign goals to promote safety and awareness.

In your opinion, what is the significance of the month of February in terms of action and prevention?

The significance of the month of February in terms of action and prevention – Traditionally, February has been deemed teen dating violence awareness month. For many years, RESPOND has worked in schools with faculty and students to educate them on healthy relationships, to recognize warning signs, how to help a friend and where to go to seek help. During February, RESPOND continues to find innovative ways to work with youth, including providing lunch and learn sessions – informal sessions during the lunch period where students learn about teen dating abuse and are able to ask questions on a 1:1 basis. Other creative approaches include working teen groups to include students in teen dating awareness activities for the month of February and to create a ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ type of blog that teens in shelters can use to grasp an understanding of shelter life and get words of wisdom from their peers. Students have used their creativity to design bulletin boards in school hallways with informative facts about teen dating abuse to reach, educate and engage the larger student body. – Michelle Fine, Director of Programs and Services

What would you say are the pragmatic hopes, if any, of RESPOND in terms of implementing its services in the community?

Every minute of every day, RESPOND strives to walk the walk we preach. In order to pragmatically implement services within the community, all staff undergo extensive training in providing empowering/trauma-informed services and basic tenets of customer service. RESPOND is well-known for finding solutions in cases where it seemed none were available. RESPOND’s highly trained staff are not satisfied with saying we don’t provide that service; staff go the extra step of identifying a clients needs and finding a reputable community resource to connect the client with. After resources and information are given to the client, clients are encouraged to call RESPOND back if they should run into any barriers or need further support. RESPOND continues to be innovative in its community services provision; the agency has founded 3 multi-disciplinary high risk assessment teams to identify those at significant risk of lethality and provide a coordinated community response. – Michelle Fine, Director of Programs and Services

What is RESPOND’s reaction to and understanding of its increasing success as a movement?

RESPOND has been pioneering the movement to end domestic violence for 37 years. One of the first domestic violence shelters, and the only at that time to accept teenage boys, RESPOND ensured no parent had to choose either safety or being with their son. Many shelters today still do not accept teenage boys. RESPOND has continued the battle to ensure no victim is turned away and opens its doors to any one seeking domestic violence services regardless of age, gender or any other characteristic. Unfortunately, domestic violence is still a taboo topic, victim blaming still exists and the need for services remains strong. RESPOND continues to reaffirm its belief that education, intervention and prevention services will continue to save and change lives. – Jessica Brayden, Executive Director

Source: Somerville News