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Healthy Teen Dating

Saving Grace addresses teen relationships & violence prevention in Deschutes County

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The idea of your baby one day being old enough to date can be a bitter pill to swallow. But, as adolescence approaches, visions of young men with flowers and innocent pecks on the cheek goodnight at the door, make the whole courtship scenario a bit more palatable.

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Unfortunately, statistics don't support this pleasant picture. This past March, during the Heroes Luncheon, Trish Meyer, Interim Executive Director of Saving Grace, shared the following about the reality of violence and teen dating:

• One in three adolescents in the U.S. are victims of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner.

• One in 10 high school students has been hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend.

• Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence—almost triple the national average.

Preventing Abuse in Adolescent Relationships

These statistics illustrate our youth's need for help with dating violence prevention. In fact, the need is so dire that in 2012, the State of Oregon passed the Healthy Teen Relationships Act, which requires all schools to provide dating violence prevention and education for students in grades 7 -12.

Today in Deschutes county, Saving Grace's Prevention Specialist, Genevieve Menz, brings the Violence Prevention curriculum into Deschutes County high school classrooms throughout the school year. With 15,000 middle and high school students in Deschutes County, Menz, who is a part-time employee at Saving Grace, has her work cut out for her.

Even with the limited amount of time allotted, Menz manages to visit many high school health classrooms at least once, and in some cases up to three times throughout the school year. During the summer and other school holiday breaks, she continues her work by visiting youth groups such as The LOFT (Cascade Youth & Family Services' program), The Boys and Girls Club, Juvenile Detention and other programs for youth in Deschutes County.

The Violence Prevention Curriculum

According to Menz, "Primary prevention is essential for increasing awareness, decreasing violence and creating a safe community...". Using the method of trauma-informed teaching, she gives students the language they need to understand dating violence. For some, the program is an introduction to the prevalence of abuse in their community, for others already in abusive relationships, it serves as a wakeup call.

Along with educating students, Menz's presentation also provides teens with an invaluable tool kit for taking action against violence. Topics are addressed through a multifaceted curriculum that includes presentations with an interactive story model, in which students are plunged into the lives of fictional kids their age dealing with issues of consent, healthy and unhealthy relationships, sexual assault, victim blaming and bystander intervention. Additionally, the program includes the viewing of a documentary covering a sexual assault case at a college and the aftermath that follows, and small group discussions on the topic.

Curriculum Goals & Successes

Menz provides upwards of 3-4,000 students each year with prevention education. She says, "We hope students are being introduced to tools for advocating for themselves and their friends, and for treating one another with respect and dignity."

As for the program's success, Menz explains, "While it would take a true longitudinal study to assess the impact of the program on future relationships, our evaluations show that over 95 percent of youth said they learned to recognize the important aspects of a healthy relationship, recognize warning signs of an unhealthy relationship, know new ways to help a friend in an abusive relationship and learned something that will help them feel safe in their dating relationships."

What Parents Can Do

While there is no stopping the inevitable, parents can help prepare their kids for the dating world even before they accept their first date by:

• Having open conversations with kids about consent, healthy/unhealthy/abusive relationships and sexual assault.

• Modeling that it is OK—cool even—to talk about these topics and to care about them.

With society's general discomfort around discussing sexual violence and abusive relationships, giving adolescents words for these issues is the first step to overcoming them. According to Menz, the ultimate goal is to redefine abuse and violence for as many young people as possible. She says, "We hope students introduced to our curriculum can begin to unlearn unhealthy societal expectations of boys and girls so that everyone can live freely and without violence."

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