Program puts focus on teens and dating violence

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Tony Morales, Empower Yolo ASSETs Site Coordinator at Woodland High School, discusses dating abuse and healthy relationships with ASSETs students during teen dating violence awareness month. (Fabian Iglesias/Courtesy photo)

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By Natalia Baltazar
Special to the Express

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (TDVAM), a national effort to help raise awareness about teen dating violence, provide prevention education and promote healthy relationships.

The focus of the awareness effort is preventing teen dating violence, which impacts one out of every three youths every year. According to the California Partnership To End Domestic Violence, the essence of preventing teen dating violence is “stopping dating and domestic violence before they ever occur which requires stopping the conditions that support violence and promoting conditions that prevent violence. We must end systematic/cultural power imbalances (sexism, racism, homophobia, etc.), and instead, build healthier communities, form strong connections, and know our self-worth.”

Teen dating violence is an issue that impacts everyone – teens, their parents, teachers, friends, and the whole community. Together, we can raise the community’s awareness about teen dating violence and promote safe, healthy relationships.

Educating our youths about the issues is one of the primary goals of teen dating violence awareness month.

“Teen dating violence is an issue that impacts teens throughout the world. It is crucial that we take the initiative to educate youths and provide a safe space where students can share their experiences and thoughts on what healthy relationships are meant to look like,” says Tony Morales, Empower Yolo ASSETs Site Coordinator, Woodland High School.

Romantic relationships between teenagers can be incredibly complicated. Having a relationship during these challenging years often requires more maturity than most teens have developed. These relationships can have many problems with communication and jealousy and can be further complicated with the pressures of social media. “Many students don’t know that abuse comes in many forms and is not limited to physical but also includes emotional and verbal. This stems from the lack of conversations being held.  It is critical for youths to begin learning the skills needed to create and maintain healthy relationships. These skills include how to manage feelings and how to communicate in a healthy way,” says Morales.

In an effort to educate local teens, provide a safe space, and equip them with healthy relationship skills Empower Yolo’s After School Safety and Enrichment for Teens (ASSETs) program is hosting a month-long TDVAM campaign at Woodland High School.

The campaign will include weekly workshops and a fun, month-long meme contest on healthy relationships. The series of workshop topics will include: what is teen dating violence awareness month; what does teen dating violence look like; in their shoes: teens and dating violence; and healthy relationships. Resources where students can get help will be provided at every workshop.

New this year ASSETs will use the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s In Their Shoes: Teens and Dating Violence program to give students a more in-depth view on teen dating violence. “With this program, students will be able to see the different ways that teen dating violence can show in different relationships. The ASSETs team is confident that with this program we will be able to more thoroughly educate students on this topic,” says Fabian Iglesias, Director of Youth Programs, ASSETs Program Manager, Woodland High School.

During the year ASSETs provides prevention education through its curriculum. Even during online school through the pandemic, the ASSETs team provided prevention education to students making 12 prevention education presentations to 90 students from July through December 2021. In the current school year, the program is engaging even more students.

“Every Thursday, the ASSETs team hosts weekly Our Strength meetings, a prevention education program devoted towards raising awareness on various issues which affect teens in Woodland such as stalking, gang violence, mental health and levels of poverty,” says Morales.

ASSETs also provides resources and services for students.

“ASSETs works hard to deliver programming that touches upon teen dating violence throughout the year. Our focus is to prevent the students we serve and the community from experiencing dating violence by showing our teens the warning signs of abuse. In those situations where students are experiencing dating violence, we refer them to various partners and in-house departments. At Empower Yolo we refer students to the counseling department which provides free counseling, the legal department which helps with restraining orders, as well as an array of other services,” says Iglesias.

Other local TDVAM campaigns will be run by Empower Youth at Davis High School (DHS) and Emerson Junior High School.  Empower Youth is a community service club led by local teens that supports Empower Yolo and the children at Empower Yolo’s shelter.

“Many young people are still learning what a healthy relationship looks like for them and what they feel comfortable with. It’s important to teach teens what unhealthy behavior in relationships is because they may not be able to see it for themselves, or don’t realize that something is not right,” says Zach Agnew, Empower Youth DHS member, and treasurer.

Efforts to raise awareness are also happening in junior high school. “Teen dating violence is important to talk about with teens early on so that unhealthy behaviors are prevented in adulthood. Teens should know from a young age how to be treated and how to treat their partner in a relationship with love and respect,” says Isabel Churchward, Empower Youth Emerson member, and president.

The ASSETs program is also always looking for the community to become more involved with teens. They invite community members to become club advisors, or help with their leadership, academic, and enrichment programs. If you would like to know more about getting involved, contact Fabian Iglesias at fabian@empoweryolo.org.

Join Empower Yolo this month in raising awareness in our community about teen dating abuse and supporting our teens in healthy relationships. For questions about teen dating violence contact: assets@empoweryolo.org. For more information or to support Empower Yolo’s prevention education program visit, empoweryolo.org.

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