Atlanta Program Aims to Stop Teen Dating Violence

This week at the MLN Law blog we are talking about potentially dangerous situations for your tween and teen children. On Monday and Tuesday we talked about the ramifications of “sexting” (sending or forwarding sexually explicit messages or images) and how parents can prevent this dangerous behavior by talking to their teens.

Today we are looking at a behavior that dates back quite a bit further than the relatively new “sexting” trend, and that behavior is teen dating violence. And a new initiative started by several Atlanta teens is just in time, because October is domestic violence awareness month.

Elizabeth Cardenas, 17, was inspired to begin the nonprofit Start Strong Atlanta after watching a friend’s boyfriend verbally and physically abuse her for two years.

“She didn’t know how to get out and I didn’t know how to help her,” Cardenas told the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Until now. The launch of Start Strong Atlanta is part of a national initiative funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, an effort to make even the need for Domestic Violence Awareness month a thing of the distant past. Sadly, the effort is being aimed at a sector that nobody likes to think about having to put up with dating violence – 11 to 14 year old girls.

The launch coincides with Domestic Violence Awareness Month and is part of a national initiative funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The Jane Fonda Center is another locally based domestic violence awareness group, is also getting in on the act with the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation.

“What’s… alarming is dating violence occurs at an even younger age,” Fonda, founder of the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

According to Marie Mitchell, the Start Strong Atlanta program’s director, one in six high school students in the state of Georgia report having been hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend during the past year.

“That’s higher than the national rate, which is one in 10,” said Mitchell as quoted in the AJC.

Start Strong Atlanta, will target an estimated 2,000 seventh graders in Atlanta public schools, Mitchell said. More teenagers will be reached through the program’s community partners, which include Grady Health System and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

“We hope to reach over 10,000 youths over the next four years,” said Mitchell.

As for Cardena’s friend, a parent finally intervened and the abusive boyfriend has since moved away. Tomorrow I’ll post some strategies for recognizing and dealing with teen dating violence. Meanwhile, if you have experienced teen dating violence either yourself or as the parent of a teen, I would love to hear your opinion on this serious topic in the comments.