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‘Listen to your instinct’: Education continues as teen dating violence awareness month points to ongoing issue

Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, read a resolution last week to recognize February as teen dating violence prevention and awareness month.

“Youth who experience violent relationships are at a higher risk of domestic abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior, STIs, unwanted pregnancy, other domestic violence and suicide,” Frazier read during the Thursday, Jan. 28, Board of Commissioners meeting.

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Commissioners discussed how teen dating violence remains an issue and applauded Rape Crisis Intervention Services and Carroll County Public Schools for continuing to educate students on how to identify the problem.

A fact sheet from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows violence within teen relationships is common. About one in nine girls in high school experiences it, as do one in 36 high school boys. The CDC also reports 26% of women and 15% of men experienced intimate partner violence before they were 18.

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Dating violence is not only physical violence. The CDC states it can be sexual, when a partner forces the other into physical activity without consent, it can be psychological aggression, or when a partner communicates an intent to control or harm mentally or emotionally. And it can be stalking.

But Carroll has taken steps to educate students about it. And the lessons start early within the school system.

Christine Tobias, the assistant supervisor of health education at CCPS, said students in elementary school learn about body boundaries.

“If you don’t want a hug, you can ask for a handshake,” she said about the lessons.

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Tobias said the school system has community partners like Rape Crisis Intervention, Amatus and the Marriage and Relationship Education Center. The teacher can choose to work with the community partners who assist with those lessons. Although the lessons could not be done in person, Tobias said it was still important to be taught, even virtually, because it is an important topic.

She said the lessons cover the types of abuse, choices and consequences, identifying red flags and outreach. Other topics include refusal skills, cyberbullying and how to use the internet safely.

“I think it offers a full package to the student, which I think is important,” Tobias said.

Janice Kispert, CEO of Rape Crisis Intervention Service of Carroll County, said in middle school they talk about health and safety boundaries, in seventh grade they learn about sexual harassment, in eighth grade they learn “when dating hurts” and healthy relationships. Freshmen who take Health I learn about sexual violence and juniors and seniors who take Health II learn about rape myths and culture. Seniors in Health III, to prepare for college, learn about campus sexual and dating violence.

Janice Kispert, CEO of Rape Crisis Intervention Service of Carroll County.
Janice Kispert, CEO of Rape Crisis Intervention Service of Carroll County. (BSMG file photo)

The lessons started after the Maryland Senate passed a bill called Erin’s Law in 2016, which required all public schools implement a prevention oriented child sexual abuse program which teaches age appropriate lessons about consent. It’s written in Maryland’s Code of Regulations and was implemented by the 2018-2019 school year along with training for the courses, according to Tobias.

She said people were “a little taken aback” by the lessons for young students but said it was important to empower kids.

Tobias said the partnerships have worked well. And praised the coordination with the school counselors who make themselves available when the topic gets discussed.

Kispert said she found that when her organization helps teach the content at the schools, the students are receptive and even disclosed to them some of the potential violence they or someone they know is facing. They also receive thankful messages from the surveys and the hotline becomes more active.

She said she noticed the violent behavior, or rape culture, has become normalized through video games and music but wants to remind young people about the warning signs.

“If you get that gut feeling that something is wrong, listen to that gut,” she said. “Just listen to your instinct.”

Frazier said during the meeting last week that outreach to the school system is important and encouraged young people to let someone know if something is happening.

“People have to know what’s going on so people can get help to you,” he said.

Kispert said during the meeting that teen dating violence continues to be a problem and teens are intimidated or do not feel comfortable reporting.

“The other problem is they may not have realized this abuse is happening,” she said. “It’s important to continue to go to schools to educate.”

The Rape Crisis Intervention Center is unable to see clients in person but they offer telehealth through the hotline. She said the hotline has not been as frequent and she thinks there could be a surge in the domestic violence due to people being home more during the pandemic.

“Your agency has played a major role through the school system and helping a lot of young ladies and gentlemen get through the crisis they have,” Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, said.

The Rape Crisis Intervention Center hotline is 410-857-7322. For more information on its services and the upcoming virtual “Walk a Mile in her Shoes” on April 10-11, go to rapecrisiscc.org. Registration for the walk opens Feb. 8.

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