Over the years, domestic violence and sexual assault crisis centers, such as Transitions, have been focused on helping victims and survivors of sexual and domestic violence. Through the years there has been specific focus on helping women and getting them into a safe place. We know that a staggering number of women are affected by domestic and sexual violence every year, but have recently begun to learn about the large number of adolescents and teens who are experiencing intimate partner violence, or dating violence, as well.
Every year in the U.S. at least 400,000 adolescents experience serious physical or sexual dating violence. As students get older, sexual violence and dating violence still occur at troubling rates. In fact, about 70 percent of college students say they have been sexually coerced.
Perhaps one of the most troubling things about dating violence among our youth is how under-reported and unrecognized it can be. Many teens and adolescents in violent or dangerous relationships do not tell anyone. Only 33 percent of teens will tell an adult or friend. Dating violence is often looked over by adults and parents, with many of them thinking it is not an issue or it doesn't exist.
A new initiative, called Project Connect 2.0 is being implemented in our area to help educate, bring attention to, and prevent teen dating violence, also called adolescent relationship abuse. Project Connect 2.0 is a national initiative funded and supported by Futures Without Violence and the Office on Women's Health. This project focuses on helping individuals who work with teens and young adults to increase their ability to identify and respond to adolescent relationship abuse. Adolescent relationship abuse includes dating violence, sexual violence, and sexual coercion.
Project Connect 2.0 will build partnerships between public health organizations, violence prevention organizations, and the intervention fields. Transitions has come together with Family Planning Plus to work with Selinsgrove and Lewisburg high schools and created a Project Connect 2.0 team at each school. As part of the project, both agencies will work specifically with the schools' nurses to increase the schools' ability to identify, respond, and refer students experiencing adolescent relationship abuse. Additional community and school members who have experience with adolescents/teens and or adolescent relationship abuse have joined the teams as well.
Project Connect 2.0 will prepare both schools for dealing with adolescent relationship abuse by establishing policies and protocols that will guide faculty and staff. The project will also help put in place the tools that schools will need to respond to adolescent relationship abuse and help refer students out, and will also provide educational programs designed to prevent abuse and promote healthy relationships. Project Connect 2.0 is now under way at both schools, with a number of activities planned for October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Domestic and sexual violence will not end overnight, but by educating and bringing awareness to our community and young people we may one day have a future without violence.
n Sara Gligora is an education specialist for Transitions and a Project Connect Core Team Member