Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

February 25, 2014

Teens shed light on dating violence

Diane Raver The Herald-Tribune
The Batesville Herald-Tribune

---- — Safe Passage, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping individuals and families in Ripley, Franklin, Dearborn, Ohio and Switzerland counties live strong, safe lives that are free of violence, was established in 1997. Since that time, its staff and volunteers have provided domestic violence victim services and support through a 24-hour help line, residential shelter and outreach services.

A youth council was established in October 2013. “We believe that it is important to have ... (this group) so we can bring awareness and education to our community about dating violence that is occurring ... (in this area) to prevent domestic violence in the future,” reports Samantha Santen, youth program coordinator.

“The teens in this group volunteer their time to make a community impact, be peer leaders and work on service projects related to the issue of dating violence. Last year, Safe Passage conducted student surveys at Batesville High School and found that 44 percent of students knew someone in a violent relationship; 27 percent had experienced hitting, slapping, shoving or other physical abuse; 15 percent reported forced sex; and 35 percent ... experienced an overly jealous or possessive partner in their relationship.

“The national statistic stands at one in three adolescents will be a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner. This issue is why we praise our youth council for standing up against abuse and making a difference in our community. The goal of this group is to educate their peers, parents, adults and the community about the issue of dating abuse to help them understand how to identify what is healthy, how to talk to their children and how to make a difference in the lives of others,” she reveals.

Layne Kirchoff, 17, a Batesville High School junior, says, “I first became interested in the council when Sam Santen visited during one of our Mayor’s Youth Council meetings. She told us she was interested in beginning a youth council that would work with Safe Passage, and she was asking for volunteers. Something about this idea really stuck out to me. I liked the idea of creating a council of teenagers that would also be helping other teenagers. I decided I wanted to make a difference.”

Clare Gratz, 16, a Connections Academy junior, volunteered because “I think it’s very important that we educate teens on healthy vs. unhealthy relationships.”

BHS junior Jenny Doehrman, 16, admits, “I love participating in groups that support excellent ideas, and I find it to be an amazing opportunity to be able to have fun while spreading the awareness against teen dating violence.”

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month and council members have been involved in many activities.

“Layne Kirchoff and I worked with Samantha Santen on a teen dating violence presentation for the sophomores at BHS,” notes BHS junior Erin Longstreth, 16.

Members set up tables during school lunches, Doehrman announces. “We had students write down their idea of love. Along with that, we also created a wooden heart where we put ideas of healthy relationships on one side and unhealthy relationships on the other side.”

BHS junior Elizabeth Cuttle, 16, adds, “On Feb. 15, our council teamed up with the Columbus council called Teens for Change. Together, we set up the Columbus HeART show, which fused artwork with spreading awareness about domestic violence.”

In addition, “We created ... posters that provide hotline numbers, awareness slogans and additional resources,” Kirchoff reports. They were hung up around the community, BHS, Oldenburg Academy and Greensburg High School .... We also plan on hosting a teen movie night” at the Community Church of Batesville, 103 E. George St. Feb. 28 at 6 p.m. The theme of the movie “Safe Haven” is domestic violence.

In March, “we will be attending a dance marathon fundraiser at Columbus East High School for its domestic violence organization. We will have a booth there, and we’ll be able to promote healthy teen relationships through our council,” she says.

Cuttle points out, “Once the cycle of abuse sets in, it is very difficult to break the cycle .... It’s crucial to talk with my peers about this issue because now is the age at which people need to be cognizant about their roles in relationships, before abusive habits form.”

Gratz observes, “I feel that I am making an impact by being a part of the youth council because we’re helping spread awareness that could help someone avoid an unhealthy/violent relationship, which will help stop the cycle of abuse.”

Kirchoff maintains, “I think this topic is extremely important to address to teenagers. Sometimes teens see dating abuse around them and in their own relationships, and they disregard it because they don’t understand the true logistics of it. One thing we always try to stress to teens is that dating abuse does not have to be physical. There’s an extreme amount of emotional abuse that can occur, and it happens all around us.”

Longstreth says, “It did not dawn on me the true impact that I could make within our community until one of the heads of Safe Passage approached me and said, ‘You can change the world.’ It seemed like a daunting task but, in all honesty, I feel like we can change the world and eliminate teen dating violence, little by little, within our community.

“I think that we are giving teens perspective and helping them realize not only how they should treat a partner but also how they deserve to be treated. No one deserves to be put down. It is so important to have enough confidence in yourself to be able to restrict a partner from behaving abusively or leaving that partner.”

Diane Raver can be contacted at diane.raver@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 114.