Let’s talk teen dating violence

Experts offer insights, resources for victims
By Nicholas Johnson | Feb 08, 2017

Domestic violence experts say February is a good time to take a hard look at romantic relationships.

That’s not simply because Valentines Day falls in February, but because it’s National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.

Nationwide, 21 percent of high school girls and 10 percent of boys experience physical or sexual dating violence, according to the National Centers for Disease Control, accounting for some 1.5 million teens each year. At the same time, 75 percent of parents have never talked with their children about abusive relationships.

The issue strikes a particularly sensitive nerve in Mukilteo, said Debra Bordsen, deputy director of Domestic Violence Services (DVS) of Snohomish County.

Last July, three young people were killed and one was injured in Mukilteo in a case of domestic violence. One of the victims was the perpetrator’s ex-girlfriend.

“It was a domestic violence murder,” Bordsen said. “He was stalking that girl.”

Mayor Jennifer Gregerson devoted much of her 2017 State of the City address Feb. 4 to the affect that tragedy has had on the community.

“The experiences of these last six months have tested us all,” she said. “They have shaken our confidence, caused us to ask ourselves difficult questions, but we have also begun to heal.”

Gregerson praised the efforts of city staff in helping the community heal, and recognized first responder in particular for their quick response to last year’s tragedy.

Nationwide, police respond to more domestic violence-related calls than any other. The same is true in Mukilteo.

“We spend more time responding to domestic violence calls than any other type of crime in the city,” said Myron Travis, the department’s public information officer.

In her address, Gregerson said the city has made the issue a priority.

“Our crime reports show that on average more than one person a week is arrested in domestic violence incidents in Mukilteo,” she said. “This is more than twice as many arrests as we see for DUI.”

Since 2015, Tiffany Krusey has been working in Mukilteo’s police department as a crime victims advocate, reviewing police reports and helping victims find legal support.

“In many places, victims don’t get follow up after making a police report,” she said, noting that national data show victims experience an average of seven violent incidents before calling police, often out of fear of further violence.

“Here, there is follow up where I connect victims with prosecution or help them get a civil protection order or a parenting plan or terminate their marriage or simply connect them with DVS.”

Krusey said research has shown that children exposed to domestic violence at home are at greater risk of both perpetrating and being victims of domestic violence later in life. That’s why she encourages parents to model healthy relationships for their kids, though she knows it’s harder to walk the walk than talk the talk.

“Are you in a relationship as an adult that you would want your child to be in?” she sometimes asks victims. “Most victims of domestic violence tell me no and I ask, ‘Why should it be any different for you.’”

Since many children are exposed to examples of unhealthy of relationships at home, Krusey said it’s imperative that schools try to fill the gap.

“Because young children are often exposed to violence in the home, this is not an issue that should be brought up just in high school,” she said. “It needs to be brought up before that.”

Jenny Wieland works for DVS as a teen dating violence prevention educator. She’s visited high school and middle school classrooms throughout the county.

“Relationships generally don’t start out abusive,” she said. “You wouldn’t get into that relationship in the first place if it was abusive. It’s a gradual process, so we should all be aware of the signs. Often it’s not physical violence, but verbal and emotional abuse.”

Red flags in teen dating include jealousy, neediness, an explosive temper, pressure to have sex and isolation from friends and family, among others.

Teens are less likely to listen to their parents than their friends, she said. That’s a big reason she focuses on educating young people.

“Most of the time, teens in abusive relationships will not tell their parents,” she said. “If they’re going to tell someone, it’ll be a close friend.”

Wieland herself escaped an abusive relationship that nearly cost her life. In the case of her daughter, who tried to help a friend in an abusive relationship, it did.

“I’m not just a talking head; I’ve experienced it,” she said. “I believe that if tweens and teens get this information, they will have tools, something I did not have. If they can focus on having healthy relationships, that could bring down the statistics for adult domestic violence. We can empower them to be agents of change to stop this cycle.”

Wieland recommends three websites where people can learn more: www.loveisrespect.org, www.breakthecycle.org and www.thatsnotcool.com.

Krusey recommends the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence at www.wscadv.org, as well as Victim Support Services at www.victimsupportservices.org.

Wieland added that anyone with questions about domestic violence is welcome to call the DVS 24-hour hotline at 425-252-2873.

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