Communities across the nation are facing teen dating violence.
According to www.loveisrespect.org, “one in three adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a figure that far exceeds rates of other types of youth violence.”
The national loveisrespect.org partnership directs callers to local resources combating teen-dating violence, according to Mecklenburg County information and education coordinator Melissa Siegel Barrios. Start Talking, the dating-violence prevention program Siegel Barrios works with, is part of the Women’s Commission, one of three divisions within Mecklenburg County’s Community Support Services. She said the services are not exclusive to women, as all genders can be abused and abusers.
“People think of teen dating violence as not being serious,” Siegel Barrios said. “To young people, their relationships are serious.”
The program partners with a long list of organizations and institutions including Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, Teen Health Connection, UNC Charlotte, Johnson C. Smith University, Time Out Youth and The Relatives.
“We see many young adults who have experienced dating violence,” said Amy Rose, a transition coordinator for The Relatives, which supports youths in crisis. “Melissa’s workshops have been a great way for our clients to learn relationships and what constitutes abuse. The workshops have definitely made a difference.”
The Start Talking program offers resources through presentations, which can feature the legal system, counseling for victims and perpetrators, and national hotlines. Start Talking is aimed at teachers and peer leaders, or youths teachers choose from a classroom to facilitate discussions and activities when implementing a program in school.
With teachers, Siegel Barrios emphasized the importance of reaching health and physical education teachers in CMS with education about dating violence, as every student takes those classes.
The program requires participants to attend six lessons, each about 40 minutes.
“There is a big focus on healthy relationships and what they look like, conflict resolution, digital media and pop culture,” Siegel Barrios said. “We help encourage media literacy with the teens and young adults because their dating is connected to social media and pop culture.”
A number of teens who completed the Start Talking program joined other teens and Siegel Barrios to organize a youth group in fall 2014 called Forward. Siegel Barris said the mission emphasizes “moving forward to change the way we view healthy relationships.”
With this program, the teens brainstorm ways to send messages about healthy relationships as part of a campaign to end teen dating violence.
“Currently the group is developing their social norms campaign and will be creating social media campaign messaging, a website, posters and videos,” Siegel Barrios said. “They are truly an amazing group of young people and a key part (to) ensuring our work is youth informed and led.”
“Being a part of Forward helped me to identify warning signs of an abusive relationship, provided me support in getting out of my own unhealthy relationship and inspired me to promote healthy relationships to teens my age,” said Julia Hoang, a program participant.
Outreach services offered by Mecklenburg County are free.
“Sustainability of the program is important,” Siegel Barrios said. “When we think about young people and their relationships, we all want them to have safe and healthy relationships and, as a culture, we need to work to make that possible by changing the conversations and the culture itself.”
Charlene Price-Patterson is a freelance writer: CPPCityNews@gmail.com.
For assistance with dating violence prevention, teens or parents can contact Mecklenburg County Community Services at 704-336-3210. Learn more about local services and programs available in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area by contacting Melissa Siegel Barrios at 704-432-1567 or email Melissa.Siegel-Barrios@MecklenburgCountyNC.gov.