Middle School – A Key Time to Intervene To Prevent Dating Violence

Middle School – A Key Time to Intervene To Prevent Dating Violence

United States Representatives John Lewis (D-GA) and Gwen Moore (D-WI) joined leaders from the Department of Education, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Office on Violence Against Women on Capitol Hill on February 10 to discuss promising initiatives that communities, schools and parents can use to address teen dating violence during the middle school years. The briefing highlighted the ways these years offer key moments for education and prevention of teen dating violence, when youth are just beginning to date or establish romantic relationships.

This briefing was held during National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. The Month was created by a resolution championed by Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Representative Lewis dedicating the entire month of February to educating the public about the debilitating problem of dating violence.

“If we can reach young people in middle school,” said Representative Lewis, “to make them aware of the nature of abuse and show them how they can prevent it, we may be able to stop this spiraling cycle of pain before middle school students get involved in it.  Teen dating violence can happen to any young person.  It knows no socioeconomic boundaries; that is why it is so insidious.  It endangers the well-being of any young person who is victimized by abuse and spreads the psychological damage young people experience within their families to innocent, impressionable teenagers who are not equipped to handle the consequences.”

“We need to make sure we’re talking to our children about dating violence so that they can identify the warning signs and hopefully prevent it altogether,” says Representative Moore, co-chair of the Congressional Women’s Caucus.

“The middle school years offer key moments for education and prevention,” said Futures Without Violence, formerly Family Violence Prevention Fund, President Esta Soler. “For most tweens and young teens, these are the years when transition to adulthood begins, new peer and social influences come into play, and jealousy, anger and pressure to conform are felt in powerful ways. This also often is the first time the behaviors they saw in their homes and families, and the lessons they have learned from peers and from popular culture, are manifested in their own relationships. As the national program office for Start Strong: Building Healthy Teen Relationships and That’s Not Cool, a national public education campaign to prevent teen dating abuse sponsored by the DOJ’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), we are proud to be helping find new ways to send effective prevention messages to middle school youth.”

The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) Director, Susan B. Carbon, said combating dating violence is a priority for OVW. The agency is supporting collaborative efforts to enhance teens’ understanding of healthy relationships, help them identify signs of abuse and assist them in locating help services.

Panelist Kevin Jennings, the Assistant Deputy Secretary for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, discussed the reasons teen dating violence matters to the Department of Education and school-based initiatives the Department is implementing to address this issue. “Middle school is an important time in the development of an adolescent’s view of what a healthy relationship should be,” Jennings said.  “Teaching healthy relationship skills early on is integral in the prevention of teen dating violence, which is far too prevalent and prevents far too many students from being able to focus on their education.”

The first panel also included James Mercy, Ph.D., Special Advisor for Strategic Directions at the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mercy spoke about a new comprehensive community-wide teen dating violence prevention initiative, “Dating Matters: Strategies to Promote Healthy Teen Relationships.”

Boise State University student Laura Hampikian kicked off the second panel. Laura was a teen survivor of violence. Laura described a year-long unhealthy relationship she had at age 14. After living through that relationship, she said, “This is why I believe in the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence and Start Strong Idaho so much. With the high divorce rates and abusive households that already exist, it can be impossible to see what a real healthy relationship should look like.  Teens, like I did, look to the media, or to the books they’re reading, to their peers, or even to music to discover what a relationship is supposed to look like.  The Coalition and Start Strong Idaho provide a real legitimate base for healthy relationships. It even helped me finally pull out of my own unhealthy, abusive relationship.”

The second panel also included: Kelly Miller, Executive Director, Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence and Start Strong: Building Healthy Teen Relationships Project Leader; Dr. Lori Vollandt, Ed. D., Coordinator for Health Education Programs, Los Angeles Unified School District; Deborah Jacobson, teacher of healthy relationships curriculum in middle school and Cantor at Temple Ahavat Shalom, Palm Beach, Florida; and Neil Irvin, Executive Director, Men Can Stop Rape who has expanded their primary prevention program focused on male youth to middle schools.

Along with Representatives Lewis and Moore, “Why Middle School Matters” was co-hosted by Senator Crapo and Representative Dave Reichert (R-WA). Futures Without Violence, Jewish Women International, Break the Cycle, MTV, Liz Claiborne Inc., the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Start Strong: Building Healthy Teen Relationships, the Los Angeles Unified School District and Men Can Stop Rape co-sponsored the briefing.

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