The George Huguely trial in the death of Yeardley Love has captivated the attention not just of our region, but of the nation. Love was 22 and a student at the University of Virginia when she became a victim of teen dating violence. Appropriately, this February marked the annual Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. The continuing story of Love and Huguely’s relationship reminds us that we each have a role to play in ending teen dating abuse and domestic violence in our community; the consequences are too real to be ignored. But, there is hope as our community has already made impressive strides toward a future where our youth better understand how to create healthy relationships.
According to 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.” Abuse is an issue that affects us all — adults and, yes, youth. My work as executive director of Doorways for Women and Families, a local non-profit that creates pathways out of domestic violence and homelessness leading to safe and stable lives, has taught me that experiencing abuse does not mean a teen is destined to have a bad life. There is hope. Doorways, through our individualized services, can help youth redefine what a healthy relationship means. Both youth and teens in our programs receive counseling that helps them build the confidence and skills to succeed in life.
Helping youth learn how to develop healthy relationships is one of our most promising strategies toward ending domestic violence. A concerted effort is needed to help teens identify warning signs in their own relationships and in those of their friends. This is why I am so glad Doorways can partner with public and private agencies, and community groups in a collaboration called Project PEACE (Partnering to End Abuse in the Community for Everyone). This partnership has been working with Arlington Public Schools to institute SafeDates, a program that seeks to equip students with the skills needed to develop healthy relationships. This is a huge step forward in achieving a peaceful community and I applaud our schools for taking on such a critical issue.
But, what is our role as parents?
Simply put, continue the conversation. In the George Huguely trial, we receive both helpful information regarding the red flags of teen dating violence and confusing messages about who is to blame. Our children are receiving conflicting messages like these every day of their lives. I am well aware that my kid’s conversations at school may center on the latest Hollywood scandal. It is my role to bring perspective to the larger issue. Thanks to SafeDates, our children will be presented with an image of a healthy relationship. We owe it to ourselves, and to our children, to gain the resources and training needed to continue the conversation started in their classroom.
Take 30 minutes this month, in honor of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, to get up-to-date on the issue. Go to LoveIsRespect.org or BreakTheCycle.org to learn more about dating abuse and, more important, what a healthy relationship looks like. With your help, our community will continue making great strides towards a future free of violence.