It’s 2:30 on a recent afternoon and our Prevention and Awareness Educator is answering questions about teen dating violence for a small group of teens.
One teen raises his hand. “What if you’re dating a girl and you find out she’s cheating on you and you tell her you’re going to punch the guy she’s with? So I punch the wall beside her to show her how I was going to punch him. That’s not abuse, right?” The 16 or 17-year-old student leans way back in his chair and folds his arms.
What would you say?
Our educator said, “Yes, that’s abuse. How do you think your girlfriend felt when you punched the wall next to her?”
A young woman across the room yells out, “Scared! Like she could be next.”
Who we talk to
On average, Spruce Run-Womancare Alliance makes more than a dozen one to three hour community presentations about domestic abuse, healthy relationships, and our services each week. Many are made in elementary, middle, and high schools. Others may be made to nursing students, case managers, teachers, religious organizations, or businesses.
Material is tailored to fit the audience, so that teens learn about healthy dating relationships while medical students learn about screening patients for domestic violence.
Given how prevalent domestic violence is, and the fact that it touches people of every age and in every part of society, our educators know that when they enter a room with 15 or 20 people, chances are that members of the audience have had a range of direct or indirect experiences with abuse.
Changing attitudes, room by room
No matter the audience, in nearly every presentation a theme emerges: abuse is more subtle and more pervasive than most people realize. It isn’t one incident of physical violence; it’s a pattern of controlling and manipulative behavior that can have verbal, emotional, and sexual facets. Abusers often have functional relationships at work, church, and school; victims know how to put on a good face in public.
The upfront goal of our presentations is to make people aware that we offer a hotline, shelter, and legal assistance should they or someone they know ever need it. We want people to understand that abuse can happen to anyone, know what the warning signs are, and know that we are here to help.
But the big picture idea is to help people cultivate relationships filled with equality, good communication, affection, and respect. Attitudes have changed significantly since Spruce Run and Womancare were founded around four decades ago, as have relationships. Our educational outreach is one part of that change, and we are proud of that role.