FORT WAYNE — Dating violence affects one in three teenagers in the United States, and it’s a problem that’s not going away unless people are made aware of the danger, YWCA organizers said.
On Thursday, Mayor Tom Henry presented a proclamation to YWCA President Debby Beckman, identifying February as Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month in Fort Wayne.
Each year, 1.5 million high school students in the U.S. experience physical abuse from a dating partner, Henry read from the proclamation, yet an estimated 81 percent of parents don’t believe teen dating violence is an issue or don’t know what it is.
The YWCA has two safety programs it presents to thousands of young people each year in six counties, said Kelsey Cottrell, YWCA’s community education coordinator.
The first program, Eyes Wide Open, focuses on promoting healthy relationships and the second presentation, Digital Boundaries 101, discusses online safety, Cottrell said. Cottrell visits schools and talks with students for both programs and said she has been amazed with some of the stories she has heard, even from students in younger grades.
“After being with those students and seeing and hearing about some of the things they’ve gone through, I know that our job is not finished.
“It is far from over, and we have a lot left to do,” Cottrell said.
Denita Washington, family support specialist for New Haven High School, said having the programs at East Allen County Schools has made a big difference in the comfort level her students have with addressing safety issues.
“Our students are so aware of teen dating violence,” Washington said. “They hear and know things and can talk about it.”
Washington said she’s thankful to see the city taking the initiative in educating students about dating violence.
“(Safety) goes beyond just dating relationships, but also includes friendships,” she said. “ … and safety is a priority.”