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State, county launch teen dating violence prevention campaign

Officials said 1.5 million high school students nationally experience physical abuse from a dating partner each year.

Christine Valencia, a survivor of an abusive relationship,

Christine Valencia, a survivor of an abusive relationship, embraces her father, John Bollmann, on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, in Hauppauge after she shared her story on teen domestic abuse. Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

When Christine Valencia started dating a new boyfriend, she didn’t know she would later fear him. And she didn’t know she’d eventually leave him to save her own life.

“As I go place to place sharing my story, I think of the . . . girl who decided not to wait anymore,” she said.

Valencia read a poetic piece about her experience in an abusive relationship Tuesday to help unveil a new initiative to raise awareness of teen domestic violence in Suffolk County and across New York State.

Advocates against domestic violence, and government officials, gathered at the H. Lee Dennison building in Hauppauge to announce the campaign, called “Teen Dating Abuse is #NotJustPhysical.”

The campaign aims to educate teens about healthy relationships, and is using Snapchat and Instagram to reach teens in middle and high school.

“We can’t wait until partners are 30 or 40 to teach them what a healthy relationship looks like,” said Suffolk County Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), herself a survivor of relationship abuse.

Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationally experience physical abuse from a dating partner each year, and 1 in 3 teens reports receiving online abuse. However, only 9 percent of teens who experience abuse seek help, according to national statistics.

In 2018, when teens spend so much time online, Wright said abuse can also come in the form of threatening texts, controlling emails and posting photos without permission, for example. The campaign and state resources are designed to alert teens to warning signs and also to teach parents how best to engage with their children.

“Most teens think teen dating abuse has nothing to do with them or their friends. Maybe they don’t know what it looks like,” said Gwen Wright, executive director of New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. “It’s not just a push or a hit or slap.”

Officials said teens often are experiencing the intense emotions that come with new relationships, and puberty at the same time, and may not yet know where to draw boundaries.

Valencia said she hadn’t been aware of the warning signs and didn’t realize the danger she was in until later.

The initiative is the latest from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration to address teen relationship violence. An online education module on healthy relationships will also be rolled out to schools, Wright said.

February is teen domestic violence awareness month and Tuesday was Wear Orange Day, the official awareness day of the month. But prevention requires constant effort, said Colleen Merlo, Executive Director of Long Island Against Domestic Violence.

“We need to make it clear that abuse is not love and it will not be tolerated,” she said. “This is not just one day for us.”

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