February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

February 18, 2014

Katie Reed graduated from Auburn University with a bachelor's in Human Development and Family Studies. She serves as an AmeriCorps member in the YWCA's Healthy Relationships program and is currently studying Mental Health Counseling at UAB.

It seems like the month of February is all about love and romance, but we oftentimes forget those who find themselves in abusive situations, particularly when it comes to youth.  In Alabama, 12 percent of high school students report being harmed by a dating partner.  It is so hard to believe that 1 out of 4 teen girls and 1 out of 6 teen boys become victims of sexual assault before they reach adulthood.  Experience tells us that the relationships people form in their teenage years greatly influence the relationships they form as adults.  Understanding that prevention is a key to breaking the cycle of domestic violence, the YWCA Central Alabama’s Healthy Relationships program focuses on building solid relationships at an early age. 
Already in 2014, the Healthy Relationships curriculum has been presented in several area schools to approximately 665 students. These schools include Rudd Junior High, Hayes Middle, Ashville Middle and Hueytown Junior High, as well as an all boys mentoring group at UAB. We engage students in conversations about the differences in healthy and unhealthy relationships, the warning signs of abusive relationships, how to help friends who are being abused and ways to protect oneself from sexual assault.
One of my favorite activities that we do with students is our Refuse Abuse Red Flags.  We have students write on paper flags why they refuse to abuse or refuse to be abused, and the schools usually display their work.  For example, one student wrote “I don’t want to physically or emotionally hurt someone I love and care for. I refuse to abuse because I’m better than that.”  Another wrote “I refuse to be abused because I know I deserve to be loved and protected instead of abused.  I know my worth.”  These flags are special to me because they demonstrate that the students are able to personalize the information we discuss. I also believe that writing out a commitment is one of the better ways to ensure that it becomes a reality.

This month the flags are being replaced with paper hearts, and many will be displayed in the YW’s lobby to inspire and encourage others. So stop by in the next couple of weeks to see what our students write to raise awareness for Teen Dating Violence this month!

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