Districts Arm Students against Dating Violence

By Boren, Jeremy | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, November 5, 2009 | Go to article overview

Districts Arm Students against Dating Violence


Boren, Jeremy, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Not every teenager knows how healthy dating relationships are supposed to work, and some can become trapped by abuse if they can't identify the warning signs.

That's one message six school districts in Southwestern Pennsylvania are trying to convey to teens through teachers, counselors and peers, with the hope of preventing tragic consequences from teen dating violence -- a problem that leads one in five high school girls to report abuse by a partner, federal health officials say.

"School districts are seeing the value of this to education, because kids who are distracted by personal issues and dating violence are not learning at the capacity that they could," said Laurie MacDonald, executive director of Womansplace, a McKeesport nonprofit that helps victims of domestic violence.

Clairton City, Elizabeth Forward, Gateway, McKeesport Area, South Allegheny and the West Mifflin Area school districts have started "Expect Respect" campaigns, based on a program developed by Safeplace, an Austin, Texas, nonprofit dedicated to eliminating teen dating violence.

Students in Clairton High School wore sashes to school printed with healthy and unhealthy things that boyfriends and girlfriends might say or do to each other.

On the unhealthy side of one: "My boyfriend checks my phone messages all the time," and another, "My girlfriend won't let me talk to other girls."

Elizabeth Forward students designed T-shirts during an event to raise awareness about dating violence at The Waterfront in Homestead that said "Love shouldn't hurt" and "When does caring becoming controlling?"

Students are doing more than making T-shirts and sashes to point out examples of controlling behavior that can lead to abuse, said Paige Moody, 18, of Clairton.

Moody is part of a leadership training program that teaches her to talk to other students about how to deal with the potential of dating violence. Personal experiences motivated Moody, who plans to study dance and creative writing at Point Park University after she graduates from Clairton High School.

"My family has had domestic violence problems. I know how it affected me, and it's just important for other people to see because they may not know what can happen to them," Moody said. "People have listened to us."

According to the Mayo Clinic Foundation for Medical Education and Research, other signs of an abusive relationship include a partner who: insults you; stops you from attending school or going to work; prevents you from visiting family members or friends; and tries to control what you wear or how you spend money. …

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