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Teen-Dating Violence Addressed By Hartford Area Students In Awareness Programs

JOSH KOVNER

October 03, 2009

HARTFORD - The advocates had gathered to spotlight a growing incidence of violence in teen-dating relationships, but the high school students in the room weren't waiting for a special campaign to bring a message of respect and self-esteem to their peers.

Brandon Rothschild, Algetha Smith and Raziel Castillo students at Capital Preparatory Magnet School, where Friday's forum was held were already planning to weave statistics and warning signs about teen-dating violence into the daily morning announcement at school, and they are working on a presentation for the student body.

Yanka Carillo, a student at Manchester High School, was on a team of area students who conducted surveys and produced videos on teen-dating violence. Carillo and her fellow researchers surveyed 406 students at East Hampton High School, Northwest Catholic High School in West Hartford, and Classical Magnet High School in Hartford.

Carillo said 54.5 percent of the students surveyed indicated they had witnessed verbal abuse or physical violence among teen couples; 7 percent said they had been physically abused themselves; and 4 percent acknowledged physically harming a teen-dating partner.

"There was also a lot of abuse verbally and emotionally," said Carillo.

One in five teens across the country who have been in a dating relationship report being pushed, slapped or hit by a partner, according to the 2009 National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

Friday's forum, hosted by the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, marked the start of a statewide information campaign on teen-dating violence. But the message was tempered by a dose of economic reality.

Erika Tindall, the former prosecutor who directs the coalition, said the organization stands to lose at least $750,000 in funding if a proposal by Gov. M. Jodi Rell to shave $7.8 million from the budget of the judicial branch is endorsed by the legislature.

Tindall said the cut would affect every one of the coalition's initiatives, including efforts to reduce teen and adult domestic violence. "It would be devastating," said Tindall. "Some emergency shelters would have to close." As soon as the forum ended, she went to the Capitol to begin lobbying for preservation of the funding.

Steve Perry, principal at Capital Magnet, on the second floor of Capital Community College at 950 Main St., said that in his school of 267 students, at least seven incidents of physical violence in dating relationships come to the attention of the administration each school year.

"It starts with sharp words and can escalate. Some of these guys feel they own these girls that's domestic violence," said Perry, who has a social-work background and has written about domestic violence. "They'll find any vulnerability and exploit it. They'll make the girls suspicious of their parents or cousins or whomever they love. They'll try to isolate the girl like a lion separating the gazelle from the herd."

Perry, Hartford Assistant Police Chief Brian J. Heavren and the other professionals at Friday's forum praised the students for doing precisely what was needed to bring attention to teen-dating violence.

"They are educating each other in ways that make sense," said state Child Advocate Jeanne Milstein. "They are talking about healthy relationships, and that means trust, respect and caring."

Heavren said nearly a third of the aggravated assaults in Hartford are related to domestic violence. He said he hoped that a special detective unit devoted to domestic violence cases would start work by early next year.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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