YMCA spreads awareness of teen dating violence

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By Meghan Schrader

For IN|Fort Wayne

One out of three teenagers will experience physical, sexual or emotional abuse by someone they are in a relationship with before they become adults, according to information from the YWCA.

Preparing for Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month in February, YWCA Northeast Indiana created tools that can be helpful year-round.

The free, user friendly toolkit contains ideas and resources to help engage youth in talking about dating violence and healthy relationships. The toolkit, which can be found on their website, designated six days throughout the month of February for learning, discussion and activities surrounding the issue and also included website links to further the education such as videos, articles, statistics, quizzes and more. The toolkit has suggestions regarding announcements and activities to do on each day, but encourages teachers and parents to get creative and come up with their own activities, expanding the education beyond the designated six days.

Some of the discussion and activity ideas include raising awareness for what this month means; resources, tools and people youth can turn to for help; the importance of self-care and self-love; wearing orange on Valentine’s Day to show support for the cause; submitting sketches, poems and music that express healthy relationships; and encouraging students to embrace friendships and show support for one another.

This is the sixth year the YWCA has released the toolkit, and they are constantly looking to update and adapt it with the increasing use of social media, Director of Empowerment Jennifer Rohlf said.

“That’s where a lot of the abuse will take place,” she explained, adding that the YWCA has incorporated hashtags into the toolkit, utilizing social media platforms “to help spread the word.” Beyond the toolkit, the YWCA is involved with local organizations and task forces to spread awareness and resources to teens in unhealthy relationships. These domestic violence task forces are collaborative groups of people who are involved in helping individuals dealing with domestic violence including law enforcement officials, social service agencies, the prosecutor’s office and others.

The Wells County Domestic Violence Task Force helped set up a proclamation reading at Bluffton High School, where teens read the official proclamation in front of students and adults at the school, Rohlf said. More events were planned at Columbia City High School, DeKalb High School, East Noble High School and others, as YWCA partners with schools in the six counties they serve to spread awareness.

Beyond the February events, the organization provides a program all year long called Eyes Wide Open in which they discuss healthy relationships versus unhealthy relationships in high school classrooms.

“We help them understand what abuse really is because people often think of physical and that’s just one part of it,” Rohlf said. In the program, they ask questions such as how to be in a healthy relationship, how to set boundaries, how to communicate with a partner, what respect looks like and more.

The YWCA also has domestic violence services and dating violence services that are provided to individuals and families of any age in which they provide one-on-one support.

“That could be just somebody to talk to, or that could be legal processes where we will help get a protective order in place, or helping them press charges, or going to court with them for a custody hearing. So, whatever they might need, we try to be there for them throughout that process,” Rohlf said, adding that YWCA can connect victims and their families to those who can provide financial assistance, food resources, counseling and more.

The YWCA also met with mayors from Bluffton, Huntington, Auburn, Kendallville, Columbia City and Fort Wayne to have February declared as Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.

“[It] makes a very public stance that the mayor is supporting that this is an important cause, we need to do something about it,” Rohlf said.

If someone is experiencing dating violence, a crisis hotline is available every day, 24 hours a day through the YWCA main office at (800) 441-4073.

Each year, YMCA presents Heather’s Hope Award in memory of Heather Norris, who was murdered by her estranged boyfriend in 2007. The award recognizes a person younger than 25, who is bringing hope to the community. This individual is someone who gives back to their community as well as promotes positive healthy relationships among their peers. This year’s award nominations were due Feb. 9.

For questions, or to register your activities, contact Rohlf at jrohlf@ywcaerew.org or (260) 242-4908, ext. 235.