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Innovative Ways To Talk to Teens About Dating Abuse

"We understand that teens are very unlikely to seek us out. Survivors in general have a hard time seeking us out, but especially adolescents," shares SafeHouse Denver's Director of Counseling & Advocacy Services Abby Hansen, LCSW, when asked to describe our approach to educating teens about dating violence.

With one in three teens in the U.S. experiencing physical, sexual or emotional abuse by someone they are dating, and nearly half of dating college women reporting violent and abusive dating behaviors, it's time to spread awareness and stop dating abuse before it starts! This Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month , we're excited to share with you what SafeHouse Denver is doing to prevent this epidemic in our community, as well as what you can do to keep the teens in your life safe.

"All of our teen programming is about finding ways that we can outreach them," Abby continues, "finding natural spaces where there might be teens who have experienced abuse in their relationships and going to them."

For the past decade, most of the teens who have participated in SafeHouse Denver's Youth Program have been referred to us by partner agencies like the Denver Department of Public Safety and Florence Crittenton High School, the Denver public school for pregnant and/or parenting teen girls. "We know that females between the ages of 16 and 24 are the most at-risk population for domestic violence, and pregnancy is one of the highest markers of escalated DV and even DV fatality. So my philosophy is: If you have a program that works with pregnant teen girls and you’re not talking about abuse, you’re doing them a disservice," Abby contends.

All of SafeHouse Denver's Teen Dating Violence Programs involve a combination of informing, skill building, and processing. "We go over the basic dynamics of healthy vs. unhealthy relationships, red flags of abusive behavior, what consent is, etc." explains Abby. "Then we strive to present it in a way that is relevant and engaging. For example, we've developed a 'Celebrity Quiz' game, in which our Advocates lead the teens in analyzing a celebrity couple's relationship (think Chris Brown and Rhianna). We also include a video, 'Consent: It's Simple as Tea,' that explains consent in a straightforward format with two stick figures and a cup of tea."

In addition to these programs, SafeHouse Denver is occasionally able to send our Youth Advocates out into the broader community to talk with teens about this issue. We recently staffed a booth at Denver East High School's Health Fair (pictured above).

At the event, our Youth Advocate brought a SafeHouse board that stated, “I Support Survivors Because...,” and invited students to write their reasons on sticky notes and post them on the board. "While the teens didn't seem particularly interested in our presentation, they wrote things like, 'I was abused,' or 'DV was in my family,' or 'My mom survived abuse'," says Abby. "They have experienced DV; they know what it is. We just need to find more creative ways and safe spaces to talk about it."


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