Teen dating violence is not a topic that’s often discussed around the dinner table at family gatherings or amongst friends, but it’s a serious issue for young people.
According to the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati:
57 percent of teens have friends who have experienced dating violence.
Only 33 percent of teens who are in an abusive relationship tell someone.
About one in five female high school students report being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner.
Looking to break the taboo of this topic and the cycle of violence, the YWCA offers grant dollars to fund education, prevention, and support services addressing sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.
New Richmond Exempted Village School District and Bethel-Tate Local School District were among 17 districts to successfully secure the YWCA funding. As a result, the two districts share the services of an on-site coordinator, Devynne Eldridge, to facilitate educational programs and outreach efforts.
The groundwork for the programs began last school year with a needs assessment, Ms. Eldridge said. The assessments found that there was a need for better education addressing domestic violence, violence prevention education, and intervention services in the school districts.
Due to COVID-19, full implementation of the program has been slowed but lessons about safe dating and healthy relationships are underway as part of health education classes at the middle school and high school levels, Ms. Eldridge said. The topic of healthy relationships is included in Ohio teaching standards. When the pandemic eases, group programs will be introduced.
“I will be starting an after school club called Girls Circle in the middle school and high school,” she said. The Girls Circle is an empowerment group for ages 11 to 18.
At the middle school level, group members will focus on positive body image, reality vs. social media, she said. The high school group participants will choose their own focus.
One of the most successful prevention education topics is bystander intervention, Ms. Eldridge said. Students will learn about this as well as be educated about Ohio law.
“Knowledge is empowering in general,” she said. “When students are aware of the boundaries, it helps them better deal with unwanted situations. Learning how to help a friend. A lot of rumors can start, so focus on letting survivors tell their story and stressing that it’s not ok to tell about someone else’s trauma.”
The New Richmond Schools began planning with the YWCA a year ago for the delivery of services and worked to coordinate them with other funds made possible through Gov. Mike Dewine’s Student Wellness and Success program. The Wellness and Success program provided three mental health therapists to New Richmond Schools. The therapists are in addition to the school-based mental health services already provided by Child Focus, according to Director of Student Services John Frye.
“The availability of these initiatives is amplifying our ability to support the mental health needs of our students,” he said.
Ms. Eldridge graduated from Jackson High School and received her Bachelor of Arts in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from Ohio University. Her experiences include serving as Vice President of Ambassadors to the Survivor Advocacy Program. As part of the YWCA program, Ms. Eldridge spread sexual assault awareness and trained student groups on an empathic response, and helped to design and open the Start by Believing campaign, where she worked for justice for sexual assault survivors.