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Be aware of teen dating violence

When their 18-year-old daughter, Tina, was brutally murdered by an abusive ex-boyfriend in 1992, Jim and Elsa Croucher, who lived in Monroe, Ohio, picked up the pieces of their shattered lives, determined to do all they could to prevent a similar tragedy for other families.

They became trailblazers.

The Crouchers started by educating themselves on dating violence and the warning signs of abuse. They were alarmed to learn that one in three girls and one in 10 boys have been a victim of teen dating violence. It became their mission to empower local teens with knowledge to keep them safe. They created a presentation about dating violence and warning signs of abuse and went into area schools. They were tireless in their efforts and never turned down a request, even when Jim’s health deteriorated.

I was privileged to work with them and to help their work culminate in the 2009 successful passage of The Tina Croucher Act, a law named after their daughter to bring this education to every Ohio high school and middle school. The bill was sponsored by then-state Rep. Sandra Stabile Harwood, now Trumbull County Family Court judge.

This month is an opportunity to make sure Ohioans are aware of this life-altering prevention education. We hope all schools comply. We know 36 of Ohio’s domestic violence programs were called upon last year to provide presentations to almost 37,000 students, including the Sojourner House and Alliance Area DV Shelter. Kudos to the programs and schools calling upon them. Now, we must make sure the rest of Ohio’s 844,406 grade 7-12 students are taught love should not hurt.

You can help! Begin with your Parent-Teacher Association or school board to see if your school offers teen dating violence prevention education.

Prevention education in schools is vital because teens typically don’t tell parents. Studies indicate that only one-third of teens involved in an abusive relationship confided in someone about it.

Jim and Elsa didn’t know.

They learned the truth at Tina’s funeral when some of her devastated friends shared they had known. Even if she did tell, at the time Tina would not have been able to seek protection from the courts. That has changed with a 2010 law allowing Ohio teen victims to obtain a civil protection order against a minor or juvenile abuser.

Relationship abuse includes physical (hitting, slapping, pushing, choking / strangling); sexual (forcing unwanted sexual contact); monitoring (demanding to look at the phone to see who is texting and calling); controlling and stalking (continually calling, texting, and / or following victim); and isolating (keeping victim from spending time with others).

Verbal or emotional abuse is the most common, including criticizing the victim, friends, hobbies, and threatening to harm the victim, themselves or others if they don’t do what the abuser wants.

Warning signs your teen is in an abusive relationship include a possessive partner; change in habits, hobbies, apparel; unexplained injuries; constant checking in with the partner; and getting serious too quickly.

Healthy relationships are based on respect and equality. You feel safe, supported, happy, and excited to be around each other. You have privacy and lives that are separate from each other but can come together and be a unit at any given time.

The roots of adult domestic violence can begin in childhood and escalate in teen years. Teen dating violence has profound impacts on lifelong health, opportunity and well-being. Teens experiencing abusive relationships are twice as likely to experience abuse as adults, and report increased substance use and suicidal feelings later in life.

In 2013, the Ohio Domestic Violence Network created the Croucher Family Award to honor pioneers in domestic violence education. Each year, the award is given to one or more individuals who have shown outstanding advocacy and leadership. Please honor their memories. Start the conversation with your teen. To learn more, visit www.loveisrespect.org or the Ohio Domestic Violence Network’s website at www.odvn.org

Bridget Mahoney is the immediate past board chair of the Ohio Domestic Violence Network. She is a former television anchor for WKBN and a domestic violence survivor.

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