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VA Dating Violence Preventers Report “Good Momentum”

February 28, 2011

RICHMOND, Va. - Whether it's one teenager stalking another via cellphone texting - or "sexting," as it's known - emotional abuse, physical assault or date rape, Virginia domestic violence prevention programs have their hands full. In an annual one-day nationwide census last fall, 19 percent of Virginia's programs reported providing advocacy on behalf of teen victims of dating violence.

In Winchester, Jessica Carper with the Laurel Center reports her program has made strides in getting young people to learn that jealousy can lead to possessiveness - and abuse.

"Controlling the jealousy - that's the biggest thing we hear. When we ask kids if they believe jealousy is a sign of 'true love,' so many kids say 'yes.'"

Progress is being made, Virginia's domestic violence counselors say. But they point out 85 percent of the programs reported higher demand for services, while 83 percent reported a decrease in funding.

Robin Jones runs a pair of dating-violence prevention programs for teens in Chesterfield County, outside Richmond.

"Currently, we have good momentum. Schools are very receptive to this type of programming. They would like to see more. They want to expose more of their kids to information regarding healthy relationships."

Carper says since 2007 she has been making inroads in preventing teen dating violence with a project in that city's North End. But it was not without a false start or two, she admits.

"When we first started this project, we tried to come in and it was, like, 'I am Jessica from the Laurel Center, going to teach you about domestic violence.' We found that that didn't really work, that we had to focus on becoming part of the community."

Jones says she and her colleagues are updating their programs to deal with the explosion of new technology that leads to abuse on social networks and cell phones.

"It came barreling at us, and it needs to be addressed in the programs. The students themselves, in the course of us doing the program the last time we offered it, said 'You all need to talk some about this.' So yes, we will be adding it."

The Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance operates the 24-hour, toll-free Family Violence and Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-838-8238.

President Obama proclaimed February "Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month." And after the calendar turns a page, those helping Virginia's teenagers deal with the issue will be working year-round to keep awareness high.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - VA