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Huntsville program working to prevent domestic violence among teenagers

WAAY 31 spoke with local teenagers going through a program called Date Smart.

Posted: Jul 8, 2019 6:38 PM
Updated: Jul 15, 2019 8:54 PM

Recent studies show girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence, at almost triple the national average. Now, there is a new program in Huntsville working to change that. WAAY 31 spoke with local teenagers going through a program called Date Smart. They shared some eye-opening insight.

Kennedie Jones is 14 years old. She is about to start the 9th grade in Huntsville. When we asked her if she had a boyfriend, she said no, she's not in any rush. She said too many of her friends are in relationships that don't seem good.

"Yes, like hitting each other in the face. The boy slamming the girlfriend and it causes issues in their relationship and they break up. They eventually go back to each other and that's not healthy," Jones said.

The incident Jones said she witnessed is more common among our youth than you might think. According the groups, Domestic Violence Services, Inc. and loveisrespect.org, some domestic violence studies show that 40 percent of teenagers ages 14 to 17 years old report knowing someone their age who has been hit, beaten or abused by a boyfriend. About one in five female teenagers report physical dating violence by a dating partner. Nearly 14 percent of teens, both male and female, have reported that their boyfriend or girlfriend threatened to harm them or themselves to avoid a relationship breakup. The violent behavior often begins between the ages of 12 and 18. 

That's why the Boys and Girls Club of North Alabama launched the Date Smart intervention program in our area. Youth outreach  coordinator with Thrive Alabama, Laura Calvert helped lead a group of teenagers through the first of three classes in the Date Smart program.

"We're targeting minority youth ages 13-24 in Madison County. We've been looking for different partners and Boys and Girls Club was excited to bring this to other teen centers. We're working with a few teen centers in the area," Calvert said.

Class leaders talk to the students about communication with their friends in person and through social media, including text messaging, direct messages and instant messaging.

"Usually, the first session is a little bit quieter, so we try not to start out with the heavy stuff first," Calvert said. "By the end of it, all of the groups are really open and you can tell that they've really picked up on what we taught them because they've started incorporating them with the other lessons."

They also learn how to set boundaries.

"We kind of use demonstrations that we see in the media that are healthy relationships. I let them pick, people they've seen in media and their relationships and how they described them, what's healthy and unhealthy and what they see about those relationships, and we talk about them," Calvert said.

After the first class was over, WAAY 31 asked the teenagers what they learned.

"I feel like you have to respect yourself first before you respect somebody else, but you've got to have respect for that person as far as what you do, what you all talk about...Respect overall," Kennedie Jones said.

Group leaders said they offer this advice to parents.

"Talk to your kids. It seems like it's hard, but you'll be surprised what they're exposed to and what they know about. They form opinions on their own, being able to talk to them and letting them express themselves in a safe environment," Calvert said.

Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year. There are some important questions you should ask your teenagers. For information on this, click here.

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