Domestic violence is now affecting not only adults in relationships, but teens (ages 15-18) and "tweens," (ages 11-14) who are in a dating relationship.
Girls as young as 11 have reported incidences of violence and abuse in relationships. And, to make matters worse, Ohio just received an "F" from Break the Cycle, a teen-violence prevention organization, whose grades are based on various comparisons between the legal treatment of adult victims of domestic violence and teen victims of domestic violence.
Break the Cycle contends that all young people older than 12 have the right to petition for protection on their own behalf and that domestic violence protective orders should be available even against abusers who are minors.
"I'm seeing a lot of violence in the halls," said Darlene McCue, community educator for Someplace Safe. "I see groping, touching, smacking each other. When I get these kids in a classroom and question them about such behaviors, they are in complete denial. They have become desensitized to violence."
McCue goes into Warren City Schools and other schools in Trumbull County to educate students about dating violence. Students in grades five through eight participate in "Toxic Relationships" sessions, while those in grades nine through 12 participate in a program called "Dangerous Relationships." Each consists of a three-day program.
"It's amazing the language some children use. I'm shocked to see girls sitting on boys' laps or in the same seat," McCue said. "This goes on in grade school."
Where to turn for help:
CONTACT 24-hr. Hotline - 330-393-1565
YSU Community Counseling Clinic - 330-941-3056
Dating Abuse Helpline - 866-331-9474
Other resources include: school counselors, school resource officers,
departments and www.thesafeplace.org
While many adults have become aware of the prevalence of teen dating abuse and violence, few realize that preteen girls and boys are also victims, and according to the July 28 "Tween and Teen Dating Violence and Abuse Study" commissioned by Liz Claiborne Inc. and loveisrespect.org, the National Teen Dating Helpline, tweens involved in relationships with the opposite sex experience significant rates of dating abuse and violence. According to the report, the earlier they become sexually active, the more likely tweens will experience abuse and violence throughout their teen and young adult years.
When McCue goes into a school to talk with a class, she starts out with telling them about her own life - her abuse started at age 17 and lasted for 12 years. She feels that this brings her to their level, as "this can happen to anyone."
"I wanted to be a doctor ... but the abuse screwed up my life," McCue said. One of the tools McCue uses in the schools is playing "dating relationships bingo." She is able to hold a conversation with the students as they play a different sort of bingo. In this game, instead of the usual columns for bingo, they are labeled with headings such as things to look for in a good relationship, red flags and green flags.
McCue said that some will open up and talk about their relationships, but it seems that a lot of older boys are very closed, and they prefer to talk about other people. The younger children readily open up and talk.
McCue thinks that dating violence is getting worse as she feels that many girls have a total lack of respect for themselves. She said that they are doing what they feel is right, but actually don't know what is right. Date rape perpetrators, she feels, fall into the same category of an abusive person, as they feel that they "are entitled to everything they want."
"They seem to have a lack of respect for themselves and other people," she said.
McCue, in her travels to local schools, feels it might not be as bad in rural and suburban schools. In fact, Howland Schools' School Resource Officer Ptl. Eric Bowker said he has not seen a rise in violence, but sees a lot of menacing.
"It seems to start at home on the Internet chat rooms. It moves to cell phones and regular phones with a mention of threats," Bowker said. "The students will bring me copies of what was said. It seems that the problem starts at home using e-mail or chat rooms and ends up in the classrooms and halls." He has not seen the latest complaint of "sexting," when suggestive photos and dialogue are sent via cell phones to other students.
"If there is a problem, I first look at the evidence," Bowker said. "I generate a report. The proof has to be documented. Telephone harassment and aggravated menacing are against the law. I do try to speak to both parties and try to mediate a solution before it goes too far."
According to McCue, there are warning signs of potential abusers. She said that some of the signs include extreme jealously, being overly possessive, wanting to know everything their boyfriend and girlfriend is doing 24 hours a day, constant put-downs and telling a person what he or she can and can't do.
Counselors today are given more education about what to look for and how to be of assistance to a victim of abuse.
"We are integrating this information into our curriculum for counselors," said Victoria Kress, director of the Community Counseling Clinic at Youngstown State University. "We teach people how to do a safety plan if they need to physically get out of a domestic violence situation. You have to know how to keep safe." Kress said that she is uncertain if dating violence is on the rise at YSU or if people are more comfortable in talking about it.
There are signs of an abusive relationship that parents and teachers can recognize. McCue said that a person can become very withdrawn, depressed and often shows changes in behavior. There can be unexplained bruises or cuts and scratches.
If a person is experiencing abuse, whether verbal or physical, from a girlfriend or boyfriend or if a parent recognizes signs, there are resources that can help, including school counselors and school resource officers.
Ohio law does not allow judges to issue protection orders and restraining orders against juveniles. This provides severe limitations on teenagers who are seeking protection from abusive relationships, because those relationships are most often with other teenagers. This was cited as the primary reason Ohio automatically failed in the Break the Cycle report.
Attorney General Richard Cordray supports two bills that would remedy this problem by providing both protection and prevention measures. House Bill 10, sponsored by state Rep. Edna Brown of Toledo, would allow juvenile court judges to grant teens protective orders against other juveniles. State Rep. Sandra Stabile Harwood, D-Niles, sponsored House Bill 19, which would require school districts to adopt a dating violence policy and to include dating violence education within the health education curriculum.
"Yes, we think something needs to be done," Pat Porter, executive director of Someplace Safe, said. "But we need to have all the facts about these house bills and see what they really mean."