Western Pennsylvania Schools Called on to Help Halt Teen Dating Violence

By Crawford, Amy | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, June 13, 2010 | Go to article overview

Western Pennsylvania Schools Called on to Help Halt Teen Dating Violence


Crawford, Amy, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


For the first few months, her new boyfriend seemed great.

Emily, then 19 and a recent graduate of Elizabeth Forward High School, was working as a dental assistant when a cute patient caught her eye. The two soon started dating.

"Probably six months in, he pushed me," recalled Emily, now 24, who asked that her last name not be used because she feared drawing her ex-boyfriend's attention. "I was hysterical. And then they give you the BS, 'Oh, I love you, I won't do it again.' And I believed maybe he wouldn't."

But the violence escalated, and soon Emily was fearing for her life.

She also was afraid to leave.

"It's like you're so brainwashed," she said. "They build you up, you're everything to them, then slowly but surely they push you down."

Her eyes watered as she recalled the abuse, but the tears never fell.

"I always said it would never happen to me," she said.

Dating violence is more prevalent among young people than is commonly thought, advocates say. According to the Department of Justice, women are most vulnerable to violence from a romantic partner between the ages of 16 and 24, but children as young as 11 have reported dating abuse. Boys and young men also can be victims.

Surveys by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that about 10 percent of high school students report being physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend. The number rises to one in four if verbal and sexual abuse are included.

"It's a significant problem," said Terry Stewart, the education program manager at Greensburg's Blackburn Center Against Domestic and Sexual Abuse. "Kids think jealousy means love. Kids are bombarded by these things in the media-- violence against women, that the man should have the power."

The Blackburn Center holds free dating violence education programs in most Westmoreland County high schools. But schools often have trouble fitting such programs into an already packed curriculum.

"I think that it is an important topic," said Shara Augustine, who touches on dating violence in her health classes at Belle Vernon Area High School, "But there are so many interruptions, it's really challenging."

A bill that is slowly working its way through the state Legislature would require schools to devote time to educating students about dating violence. The bill would not appropriate any funding for the subject, but several nonprofit groups offer free curriculums for schools.

The bill is named for Demi Brae Cuccia, a 16-year-old Gateway High School student who was stabbed to death in 2007 by an ex- boyfriend, John J. Mullarkey Jr., now 21. He was convicted of first- degree murder last year and is serving a life sentence.

Demi's father, Gary Cuccia, has spent the years since her death working to advance the bill, which the House passed in March and now is with the Senate's education committee. In the past few years, 10 states have passed similar bills.

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Western Pennsylvania Schools Called on to Help Halt Teen Dating Violence
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