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Teen Dating Violence Awareness: Prevention expert offers tips to teens, parents

Rachele Eskridge, a prevention education coordinator with the YWCA Oklahoma City, discusses teen dating violence with Tinker parents during a session Feb. 20. Ms. Eskridge offered tips on how adults can help prevent dating and sexual violence among teens in their families and their communities. (Air Force photo by Kelly White)

Rachele Eskridge, a prevention education coordinator with the YWCA Oklahoma City, discusses teen dating violence with Tinker parents during a session Feb. 20. Ms. Eskridge offered tips on how adults can help prevent dating and sexual violence among teens in their families and their communities. (Air Force photo by Kelly White)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness month.

Last week Tinker teens, parents and grandparents learned prevention tips from an expert. Rachele Eskridge, a prevention education coordinator with the YWCA, spoke twice on base to educate people on teen violence.

Ms. Eskridge describes dating violence as "the use of harassing, controlling, and/or abusive behavior to maintain power and control over a partner in a romantic relationship."

According to the Injury Update, a publication of the Injury Prevention Service, Oklahoma State Department of Health, "Nationally, 22 percent of women and 7 percent of men age 18 and older have been physically assaulted by an intimate partner at some point in their life."

Additionally, the percentage of Oklahoma students reporting dating violence is less than students nationally -- just seven percent compared to 10 percent nationally. The highest rates of dating violence were reported by students of mixed race at 13 percent, Hispanic students 10 percent, and black and white students at 8 percent each. The highest rates of lifetime sexual assault occur for students in their senior year of high school.

Ms. Eskridge said speaking about sex in schools is a fine line. Sometimes, she said, administrators don't want to even allow instructors to mention the word "rape." She's had administrators tell her it wasn't their job to know the laws or to set a moral compass for the children.

She disagrees.

"We need to teach teens what healthy relationships look like, and empower them to make good choices in their relationships," said Ms. Eskridge. "I hear all the time, 'there's nothing else to do.' We need to teach them some healthier options for dating and how to hang out with one another, how to have fun."  

Ms. Eskridge said teens have never been taught how to date, so for them, dating equals sex. She said parents need to have a conversation with their children so they can be taught how to hang out with friends and how to go out on a date.

"A lot of parents think they have talked to their kids about dating and relationships, but the reality is that few have," she said. "We need to get more detailed and really discuss the issues with them so they can make informed decisions."

She also said parents need to dissect what their children are watching on television,
You-Tube, video games and even the music they are listening to.

Ms. Eskridge explained that it is important for parents or grandparents to know some of the warning signs of abuse to help identify an abusive relationship before it is too late.

"Be in your child's life enough to recognize the signs of an abusive relationship," Ms. Eskridge said. "Make it more about your child than their partner and say things like, 'I'm concerned for you, and I think you deserve better.'"

Warning signs include:
· Your child's partner is jealous and possessive
· You notice unexplained marks or bruises
· Your child's partner emails or texts excessively
· Your child seems anxious or depressed
· Your son or daughter stops participating in activities or other interests
· Your child stops spending time with other friends and family
· Your child begins to dress differently
· Your child's partner abuses other people or animals

She said there are many reasons why both women and men stay in abusive relationships, including fear, embarrassment, low self-esteem, love or believing the abuse is normal.

Ms. Eskridge asked parents to remind their children often of their worth and let them know they don't blame the child for their choice, but no one deserves to be abused.
She also said sometimes teens won't open up to parents or grandparents, so it is important to have resources to give to them so they can have someone to talk to.

Some resources include:
· Live chat at loveisrespect.org from 4 p.m.
to 2 a.m. central time
· text "loveis" to 22522.
· National Teen Dating Abuse helpline: 1-800-331-9474
· Oklahoma Safeline is 1-800-522-7233 (teens can discuss their options anonymously 24 hours a day)