Young Women’s Club addresses teen dating violence

(Left to right) Leena Quraishi, Makayla Cornett, Sydney Young, and Aashna Bhargava answering questions about teen dating violence.

Shrija Shandilya | The Chronicle

The month of February was Teen Dating Violence Awareness month and members of the Mason High School (MHS) Young Women’s Club (YWC) helped bring attention to dating violence with their own week-long campaign from February 20 to 24.

Members of the YWC set up outside the Large Commons during lunches where they answered questions that dealt with teen dating violence. YWC President Sydney Young said that they chose to raise awareness on this issue because of a grant they received from Safe on Main, a women’s shelter in Lebanon.

“They granted us money to do what we wanted, and we wanted to do something for Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month,” Young said. “When people think of February, they think of Valentine’s Day, but it’s also a month where we can raise awareness about unhealthy relationships.”

Photography teacher and YWC club advisor Tina Roberts said that the grant provided by the Safe on Main organization allowed the YWC the opportunity to choose an issue that they found important and impactful. After choosing teen dating violence as the issue, one of their first steps toward spreading awareness was bracelet making. Each bracelet featured an important teen dating violence message.

“We used the grant money to pay for bracelets with the color orange because that is the color for teen dating violence,” Roberts said. “Then, we just came up with our own little slogan and we landed on ‘End the Silence on Dating Violence’.”

The club used several methods to help teenagers navigate their way around the issue of unhealthy relationships. They provided stickers with QR codes that gave students access to links and websites to help them identify the signs of an abusive relationship.

In addition to the QR code stickers and bracelets, the YWC also created a trivia game where students could spin a wheel and answer a question about dating violence. Young said that she hoped students would be able to better identify what unhealthy behaviors are and how to escape an unsafe situation.

“We just wanted people to learn a little bit, even if it’s just picking up one fact,” Young said. “Especially because this is an actual problem and it often gets overlooked.”

Since MHS is such a large school, it is even more important to bring attention to issues like teen dating violence. Young said that MHS’s large size makes it difficult for staff members to discern specific concerns for every student.

“At a school as big as Mason, there definitely has to be some problems,” Young said. “It just might not always be seen.”

Roberts said that part of the reason teen dating violence lacks awareness is the ambiguity around abusive behaviors. She said that abuse does not have a concrete definition and is not always easy to pinpoint, which makes the issue even more dangerous.

“It’s important for people to understand and be able to recognize they’re in an abusive relationship,” Roberts said. “A lot of the time, people think it’s only physical abuse, but it’s also emotional abuse.”

MHS psychologist, Jeff Schlaeger, said teen dating violence is an important issue to address because of how it affects future relationships. He said normalizing abusive behaviors will lead students to believe unhealthy situations are regular. 

“Any form of teen dating violence can have a long-lasting effect on not only the victim but the perpetrator,” Schlaeger said. “They can go on thinking that behavior is the norm when it’s not.”

Controlling behavior in a relationship are red flags that students must be aware of. Schlaeger said that the constant need to know their partner’s location or to restriction of activities can be signs of abuse.

“When someone is really good at controlling your time and needs to know where you are at all times, it’s a really good sign,” Schlaeger said. “I see a lot of jealousy and control, and that is also a sign.”

Schlaeger said that getting out of an abusive relationship is much harder than it sounds. He said mental and emotional abuse can contribute to victims feeling isolated and afraid to get help.

“I think a lot of people find it hard to get out of relationships,” Schlaeger said. “There’s a lot of fear and the person can think that is all they deserve.”

In relation to teen dating violence, Schlaeger said it is imperative for students witnessing violent and abusive behaviors to reach out to an adult. He said students can offer to go to counselors with their peers experiencing abuse, reach out to one of the Safe School Tiplines, or utilize the YWC resources.

“If someone’s not in a safe situation, say ‘I’ll go with you to a counselor or to an adult’,” Schlaeger said. “It’s better to save someone’s life and break a promise than worry later.”

Photo by Shrija Shandilya