One in three teens have or will experience violence in a dating relationship.
That is according to Jeanne Anders, a prevention educator for the Center for Prevention of Abuse in Peoria. As supervisor of school and community based prevention services, Anders visits schools in the Tri-County Area.
The 2010 Illinois Youth Survey for Tazewell County states that 10 percent of 10th and 12th grade students reported being abused by someone they had been dating in the past 12 months.
The Center for Prevention of Abuse works to educate the public about these kinds of statistics to try to prevent them.
Currently, the Center for Prevention of Abuse is in 10 schools doing violence prevention.
Staff from the Center has taught violence prevention education for the past 20 years.
The message is spread from pre-kindergarten all the way up to college.
The teen dating violence program focuses on ninth and 12th graders.
“In the ninth grade you have the dating starting and seniors who are going out into the world,” Anders said.
Although teen relationships tend to be shorter, Anders said they can be very intense and have greater impact.
“There are a lot of mixed messages out there for teens ... on what’s healthy and not healthy,” Anders said.
Jealousy is one good example, Anders said.
“Some think that means someone cares about them. We tell them jealousy and possessive behavior are not signs of caring at all,” Anders said.
The red flag that a relationship may become violent is extreme jealousy. Anders said when a person tries to isolate someone from friends and family and keep them from things they enjoy, it is a warning sign.
“It really means you’re being treated like a possession and your thoughts and feelings really don’t matter,” she added.
Violent behavior can be learned in the home, but Anders said TV can also send the wrong message to impressionable youth.
“(Teens) think it’s OK to yell and scream to get your own way at all costs,” Anders said of one example of bad behavior learned from TV shows.
Teen dating violence is not always easy to recognize because it doesn’t always start with physical abuse.
The pattern of controlling behavior can begin with verbal abuse.
“The key is to be able to recognize it before it becomes physical,” Anders said.
Despite what many think — that abusers are always those with low self-esteem, Anders said that is not always the case.
“Abusers are smart, subtle. You really truly like this person. A violent behavior might not come out until six months later,” she said.
One thing that Anders said victims should know is that “it’s not up to the person being abused to try to help the (abuser).
“So my advice would be for the person to get out of the relationship,” she said.
But, that is not always easy. Some teens are afraid, have been threatened or are getting money from their abuser and have come to depend on them.
“They tend to forget the bad and remember the good,” Anders said.
This is why teens should not rely on themselves in these situations. They need to seek help from an adult.
“I always tell teens ... going to an adult is a sign of courage,” Anders said.
What adults can do (from Choose Respect.org):
• Recognizing abuse can be really difficult for teens. Talk to teens about what are healthy qualities in a relationship.
• Teens very rarely ask for help when their relationship becomes abusive. Parents are usually the last to know ... Adults need to keep the lines of communication open so teens feel comfortable coming to you if they need help.
• Talk to your teen about “safe dating.” For some teens it is going to have to be their choice to leave the relationship.
For more information, call the Center for Prevention of Abuse at 691-0551.