As they form plans on the cusp of life outside high school, 11th- and 12th-grade students in Carroll County Public Schools will all attend a program focused on recognizing and addressing dating violence.
The S.O.S., or Students Offering Support, program, hosted by the Carroll County State’s Attorney’s Office in partnership with CCPS, is traveling to each high school in the county to focus on teen dating violence. On Tuesday, Oct. 23, the tour made its first stop at Westminster High School.
Carroll County State’s Attorney Brian DeLeonardo said dating violence is a pressing issue that needs to be addressed with teens.
Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Ashley Pamer said during the presentation that some effects of teen dating violence are increased anxiety and depression, increased substance use, isolation and damage to a person’s social life, and an increased likelihood of experiencing dating violence later in life.
According to statistics she presented, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men who experienced intimate partner violence as adults, first encountered it between the ages of 11 and 17.
The beginning of the program started with a fictional situation performed by Foolproof, an improvisational group made up of high school students. The skit was newly formulated this year, and included added focus regarding how cellphones are part of these situations.
In the skit, two students, called Anna and Parker, were involved in a relationship that gradually became more controlling as Parker requested that Anna text him back immediately at any time of day, turned on location to track her movements so he could show up unexpectedly where she was and grabbed her face to assert control during an argument.
Anna’s best friend, Hannah, noticed red flags in the relationship, but wasn’t sure where to reach out for help.
Later, two videos with personal testimony gave the lessons a human face.
Devon Rothschild, a teacher and member of the Carroll County Board of Education, was featured in a video where she spoke about her family’s trauma when her sister Jamie was taken hostage and shot by her estranged husband. Jamie was transported to shock trauma and survived the injuries.
Rothschild said family members had known some of Jamie’s husband’s violent actions previously, but, especially in the beginning, Jamie brushed them off. She later learned that Jamie’s husband had threatened to kill her and her son if she tried to leave or ask for help. Rothschild encouraged viewers of the video not to ignore red flags in their loved ones’ relationships.
“It’s important that we as a community are OK with talking about domestic violence,” she said.
Part of that involves taking away the stigmas that it only happens to certain people. Jamie is “the strongest person I’ve ever known, but that doesn’t mean domestic violence can’t happen to her,” Rothschild said.
A second video called “Madi’s Story” presented the story of a young woman who was raped in Westminster. She spoke about the counseling and support she received after the event and how part of her healing process was to help other women and men.
“If you don’t talk about it … it’s just going to boil up inside of you,” she said. “The people who helped me the most were the people who opened up about their own experiences.”
Schools Superintendent Steve Lockard spoke briefly before the presentation Tuesday.
“Everyone in here deserves healthy relationships,” he said, noting that the program would, hopefully, help navigate between what is healthy and unhealthy.
DeLeonardo told the students the goal of the program was to step in before situations reached the level of severity shown in the video.
“You are the first line of defense in helping your friends,” he said.
DeLeonardo said the 45-minute program wouldn’t be able to cover every possible question, but was meant to start a discussion. Increased counseling services were available during the day for students.
Christine Tobias, assistant supervisor of health education for CCPS, said many of the schools had additional curriculum that students will be learning about in coming days to revisit conversations about what is and isn’t healthy in relationships.
As a member of the board for Rape Crisis Intervention Service of Carroll County, DeLeonardo said following these programs in schools, the organization has seen a jump in people reaching out for information and services.
Before students left the program, Westminster High School Principal John Baugher encouraged them: “Don’t let this be the last time you learn something about this.”
He asked them to be aware of resources in the areas they live, no matter where they end up in the future.
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Each student was given a card with resources to reach out for help or information, including the Family and Children’s Services 24 hour hotline 443-865-8031, the State’s Attorney’s Office 410386-2671 and the rape Crisis 24-hour hotline 410-857-7322.