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It has been almost three years since 19-year-old Siobhan Russell was found brutally stabbed to death by her 17-year-old boyfriend in Oak Hill, Va.
In 2010, Siobhan’s abuser was arrested and sentenced to 40 years in prison. After living through this horrific event, Siobhan’s mother was determined to do all that she could to prevent other acts of abuse and violence. She now runs an organization to raise awareness about teen dating violence, where she speaks to communities about the warning signs of dating violence. She is an example for us all.
February is National Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Awareness Month and it is critical that we take this time to remember that domestic violence is not just a problem for adults.
In our community:
u 14 percent of high school students reported that in the past year, someone they dated has hit or slapped them with intent to harm
u 10 percent of those same students reported that they had been forced to have sexual intercourse
u 28.6 percent reported that they have had someone at school flash or expose themselves sexually via social networking
It’s time to shine a light on this issue.
Recognizing abuse in a relationship can be difficult, especially for teens. There are many types of abuse that young people may believe are normal in a relationship. Even though teen relationships may be different from adult relationships, teens can experience the same types of abuse. Teens also face unique obstacles if they decide to get help. They may not have money, transportation or a safe place to go. They may also have concerns about confidentiality with many adults obligated to make reports to police, parents and/or child protective services.
But, teens have a right to safe and healthy relationships. The Lancaster County School District is taking the lead in raising awareness and preventing teen dating violence thanks to the Department of Justice’s new and much needed initiative called STEP: Services, Training, Education, and Policies to Reduce Dating Violence, Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking in High Schools.
What can you do?
Start talking to your teens early about dating and healthy relationships.
Help teens recognize unhealthy relationships and how to end them.
Encourage legislators to introduce laws that require teen dating violence education in the classroom. Teens spend the majority of their time in school or at school-related activities and without laws in place to protect them, domestic and sexual violence among teens will continue to cause upheaval at home and at school.
Take the time to educate yourself and others about teen dating violence. The following websites offer information about teen dating violence and what you can do to help:
Like Siobhan’s mother, you can make a difference.
Deborah Boulware is the healthy relationship coordinator for Lancaster County School District.