By Abbey Doyle
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
Dating violence has been seen locally in relationships as young as sixth grade, Alternatives Inc. prevention specialist Todd Cawthorn said.
“They are learning a lot of reading, writing and arithmetic in school but they are also learning interpersonal relationships,” Cawthorn said. “They need to be aware of what a healthy relationship is. If they exhibit that behavior now or tolerate it now it will affect the way they have relationships as adults.”
Cawthorn and Alternatives victims advocate Kandi Floyd will be two of the presenters during tonight’s domestic violence forum at Anderson High School. They will be talking about warning signs and red flags of dating violence and what those teens, their friends or families can do to help someone in that situation.
“A lot of teens aren’t really aware of how dangerous some of these behaviors are,” Cawthorn said. “And parents need to be aware that children at home are learning relationship skills from their parents. They pick up on everything, be it health or unhealthy behaviors, no matter how young they are.”
Floyd said some of the red flags include excessive jealousy; the need to look through text messages, social media websites and emails; controlling how the victim dresses or who the victim hangs out with; checking in with family and friends to see who the victim is with; the victim isolating themselves or signs of injury.
“People need to be aware that controlling or violent behavior doesn’t have to be physical abuse,” she said. “If you think this is happening to a friend or someone you know, call for help, get resources. Don’t ignore it or depend on someone else to call.”
Floyd said parents and others need to understand that the emotions of a teen victim aren’t much different than those of an adult. They will want to blame themselves for the abuse and make excuses for the abuser.
An open line of communication is critical to help prevent and intervene when it comes to teen dating violence, both Floyd and Cawthorn said.
“Make sure you know what is going on in your child’s life,” Cawthorn said. “If you aren’t able to speak to your child about the smallest things, when it does come to a situation where you are really afraid for your child’s safety you won’t be able to have those conversations.”
He suggested having conversation starters about healthy relationships to get to talking about it and to find common ground with your teen so conversations can be easier.
Cawthorn said the biggest component of an abusive teen dating relationship is control — controlling who the victim sits with at lunch, who the victim talks to, going through the victim’s cellphone or emails, which college the victim goes to, what kind of birth control is used, among other things.
“Dating violence and sexual assault are preventable crimes,” he said. “We can do that by working with the community, especially young people, to change inherent behaviors like gender stereotypes, controlling behaviors and violating personal boundaries.”
Floyd said it is often talked about how the younger generation will be the ones to change our society, but that change can’t happen if we don’t teach them.
“In order for them to be that change we must educate them about the cycle of violence, about teen dating violence and sexual assault prevention,” she said. “We educate our children on everything else — why not teach them how not to be a victim?”
Cawthorn and Floyd provide dating violence education in Madison County schools, one of the mandates of Heather’s Law passed in 2010. Heather Norris, 20, was killed by her abusive boyfriend in 2007. The state law requires the state Department of Education to develop and distribute materials to students from sixth grade through seniors on how to spot, and end, dating relationships that turn abusive.
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