Family Advocacy works against teen dating violence

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month in the United States.

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month in the United States. The 20th Medical Operations Squadron Family Advocacy Program scheduled events throughout the month to raise awareness of dating violence and encourage individuals to take action at home and in the community. Warning signs of dating violence can include extreme jealousy, efforts to isolate, cyber stalking and possessiveness. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Although many individuals may see February as a month of romance and spending time with a Valentine, it is also an opportunity to address toxic relationships with Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, approximately one in 10 dating teenagers has been physically abused by a romantic partner. Warning signs of dating violence can include extreme jealousy, efforts to isolate, cyber stalking and possessiveness.

The purpose of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month is to raise awareness of these situations, protect teens and encourage individuals to take action at home and in the community.

"We need to take a step back and start with the younger age group because, by the time we get people … and they’re having situations of domestic violence or partner violence, there’s probably already a pattern that was established when they were younger,” said Patti Busser, 20th Medical Operations Squadron family advocacy outreach manager.

The Family Advocacy Program has scheduled events throughout the month to educate local youth, as well as Airmen, about relationships and intimate partner violence.

“We partner with Mr. John Kennedy, (the 20th Force Support Squadron school liaison officer), and go into some of the schools with him and provide some education on healthy relationships,” said Busser. “This year we’re (also) going to be providing information on social media and how teens can stay safe with texting and sexting … and how to handle relationships in the midst of this social media boom.”

Busser expects to visit five local schools and speak with approximately 500 students, tailoring the material to appeal to each audience. For example, she may discuss healthy relationships and friendships with middle school students instead of dating violence because many might not relate to dating.

In past years, the Family Advocacy Program visits have included activities for students to explore their own thoughts.

“Last year, we had the activities where they had to write down some things,” said Lillian Hadley-Small, 20th MDOS domestic abuse victim advocate. “That gave them the opportunity to look in themselves and see ‘I didn’t realize I really feel this way.’ Every year, when we provide activities for them to do, the feedback is in their response to themselves as well as to us. A lot of times, kids don’t know how they feel until they are asked, ‘How do you feel about this?’”

Busser said many of the students in attendance during these visits are military children, a population that may be more susceptible to unhealthy relationships.

“The military population of kids we work with, they’re a little bit more vulnerable to dating violence because they are moving a lot,” said Busser. “They’re not in the same schools as they were in kindergarten. … As a military kid, when you’re moving from base to base, you’re not as familiar with everybody. You have to kind of figure it out for yourself, who you can trust who you can’t trust.”

Despite hearing about the warnings of unhealthy relationships, some individuals can still fall victim to the cycle of domestic violence. However, there are many resources that can help.

“Don’t be afraid to reach out to us,” said Hadley-Small. “If we don’t have the answer, we’ll find the answer. We’re here to serve Team Shaw.”

For more information about dating violence or for questions about interpersonal violence, contact the Family Advocacy Program at 803-895-6201.