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Bloomfield Hills

March 6, 2013

HAVEN raises awareness on teen dating violence

By Robin Ruehlen
C & G Staff Writer

BLOOMFIELD HILLS — Although February was recognized as Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, the staff at HAVEN of Oakland County want to remind the community that dating violence is an issue in every community year-round.

HAVEN is Oakland County’s center for the prevention and treatment of domestic abuse and sexual assault, and offers individual and group counseling for survivors, as well as a 24-hour crisis and support phone line. Director of Prevention Education Cristy Cardinal said the average age of teen dating violence occurs between 15 and 21.

“We know that it’s happening a lot in high school, and sometimes even in middle school,” she said.

“I wish there was a magic pill that parents could give to their kids and it would ensure they would never be abused or hurt, but there’s not. There’s not even a whole lot of advice on prevention, because being victimized just comes down to bad luck.”

According to the Love is Not Abuse campaign, warning signs of an abusive partner that parents should notice may include one who:

• calls your teen names and puts him/her down in front of others;

• acts extremely jealous of others who pay attention to your teen;

• thinks or tells your teen that you (the parents) don’t like him or her; or

• controls your teen’s behavior, checking up constantly, calling or texting and demanding to know who he/she has been with.

Those who are being abused may, in turn, apologize or make excuses for the partner’s behavior, stop seeing friends and family members, casually mention the partner’s violent behavior but laugh it off as a joke, lose interest in previously enjoyable activities, or have unexplained injuries, or injuries with explanations that don’t make sense.

Love is Not Abuse Coalition member Dr. Elizabeth Miller said in a letter on the campaign’s website that creating isolation and dissolution of a partner’s social supports are the hallmarks of controlling behaviors.

“In addition, abusers often monitor cellphones and emails, and for example, may threaten harm if the response to a text message is not instant,” Miller wrote.

“Parents are rarely aware of such controlling tactics, as these occur insidiously over time, and an adolescent may themselves not recognize the controlling, possessive behaviors as unhealthy.”

Both Miller and Cardinal stress that parents must be present for their teens — to listen, provide support and let them know that they are there to help.

“If and when abuse happens, be the kind of person your kid can trust and talk to about it — tell them that when they are ready to talk, you are ready to listen,” Cardinal said.

“We want to think that ending the relationship immediately will end the violence, but in reality, violence can actually escalate when a relationship ends. We have to think of other, more creative ways to help people who are being hurt by those they are dating.”

Love is Not Abuse recommends that, if parents suspect their teen is in an abusive relationship, parents should be supportive and non-judgmental, connect their child with a professional or support group for assistance, and assure their child that parents are there to help keep their children safe and develop a safety plan.

Most importantly, Cardinal said, victims of abuse need to know that it is not their fault.

“We want to help them and to not force them to do things, because the abuser is already doing that. We need to not give up on them,” she said.

“The fact is, most of the time people do leave abusive partners, and we need to have some patience around it.”

Cardinal said parents can also demonstrate the skills of healthy relationships by behaving respectfully with their own partners — and by keeping an eye out for the dynamics that develop in their children’s relationships.

“Kids learn by witnessing, rather than being told something. We can teach them by having equitable, respectful relationships ourselves,” she said.

“The other thing is to pay attention. How does your daughter or son talk about the person they are dating? With respect? If not, talk to them about that, and find out why.”

Cardinal said trained HAVEN staff are also available for presentations in high schools and middle schools on “Skills for Violence Free Relationships,” which aims to raise awareness of sexual assault, dating violence and sexual harassment.

“We try to promote positive behavior. What does a healthy relationship look like? What do you want your partner to be like, when you have one? What character traits to do you want to look for?” she said.

“We teach that students have to bring those things to the table as well — that successful relationships really are about being mutually respectful and honoring each other in that way.”

If you are seeking immediate assistance for your teen or support in approaching the subject, contact HAVEN’s 24-hour crisis and support line at (248) 334-1274.  To schedule a school presentation, contact Cristy Cardinal at prevention@haven-oakland.org. Visit www.haven-oakland.org for more information.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Robin Ruehlen at rruehlen@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1105.