WASHINGTON — Violence among teen daters is on the rise and the Washington Public Library and Washington County Domestic Violence Coalition collaborated for a program on Monday to teach local sixth through twelfth graders about it.
Xiomara Levsen, client advocate services coordinator with the Domestic Violence Intervention Program (DVIP) said the program, In Their Shoes, was made possible by a mini-grant from the Riverboat Foundation. The grant paid for the program which put students in a theoretical situation where they each student chose a character card and walked through the steps of what that particular person was dealing with in their personal life.
John Flannery and Teegan Sulentach teamed up for the simulation and walked through it in the shoes of a 16-year-old girl. Their character became pregnant from a much older boyfriend and was then kicked out of their house. Both teens agreed this was never a situation they had been in or thought about being in but it opened their eyes that although there are options they may not always be the best one.
“We had choices but none of the choices lead to anything good,” he said. “If anything it just solidifies the fact that it’s not as easy as saying ‘no’ and walking away because even if you want to, sometimes you can’t.”
Levsen said in her line of work she sees violence among teen daters quite often. It begins with isolation and emotional abuse and escalates from there.
“Teens are starting to deal with (violence) more everyday and if they’re dealing with it now, they aren’t telling anybody,” she said.
Although this topic was quite heavy for such young students, she said students are often exposed to these types of toxicity already. By bringing it in the form of a simulation, she hoped it would open doors for students to be able to understand what is and is not considered healthy behavior.
“We find that more teens are in bad relationships now because they have seen it at home or friends are going through it,” she said. “So they might have grown up in that situation and didn’t know it was wrong.”
Jenisa Harris, youth services library at the Washington Public Library, agreed.
“I think some kids don’t know what’s healthy so we need to teach them the differences so they can stay safe before it’s too late,” she said.
Harris said she was glad to host the event with the coalition because the library is a popular spot for youth, especially with the Teen Advisory Board (TAB) being up to 15 members. Hosting an event about a heavy topic in a safe place like the library helps create a place where difficult topics can be discussed.
“I think it’s great to open conversations because education is important in this situation. That way if they are ever in this situation, they have the resources to know what to do,” she said.