2015 Grantee Partners

Love Shouldn't Hurt 
Teens-4-Change show peers that love and violence have nothing in common

In the beginning, Ashley was just a teenager in love. During her freshman year at a local high school, she met her first boyfriend, “Paul,” a 17-year-old senior. Ashley wanted to be popular and accepted by her peers. Having a senior as a boyfriend gave her this status. Eventually, Paul became controlling and abusive. He used mind games and manipulation to gain power and control over Ashley.

One night he asked her to send him a nude picture of herself. She hesitated at first, but sent it anyway. When Ashley told Paul that she didn’t want to see him anymore he threatened to blackmail her with the photo. Ashley assumed he’d erased the photo, so she ended the relationship anyway. Paul lived up to his threats and posted the photo on his MySpace page. By the next day, the entire student body had seen the photo.

An alarming number of teens like Ashley experience abusive dating relationships. According to the Family Violence Prevention Fund, approximately one in three girls in the United States is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner – a figure far exceeding victimization rates for other types of violence affecting youth. Teens-4-Change is working to change those stats. It’s a teen-led social change/ peer educator group based in Family Services’ Safe Relationships Division. In 2009, The Women’s Fund of Winston-Salem gave Family Services a two-year grant for $30,000 to support the program. Teens-4-Change trains volunteers to address issues such as dating violence, sexual assault, suicide, self image and healthy living. They learn about these topics, and in turn, educate their peers and families. The core group consists of 26 young women ages 14-18 from throughout Forsyth County, representing different ethnicities, races and socio-economic backgrounds.

Stories making the news often involve abuse that causes injury and even death, but it’s not always physical. As in Ashley’s case, the abuse can also be verbal, emotional or both. It can include constant insults, isolation from family and friends, control over what a partner wears and even sexual assault. Increasingly, abusers use technology to inflict harm. Constant texting, phone calls or embarrassing postings on social media sites – used to monitor, control or even blackmail – are forms of abuse.

Ashley has become a leader in Teens-4-Change. Although initially uncomfortable sharing her experience, learning about dating violence has empowered her. She says, “As a young lady you need to respect and love yourself first – something I’ve learned from the group. Know that no one deserves to be manipulated and humiliated. We teens don’t take emotional  and verbal abuse seriously, but both types leave scars that will never go away.“ The group develops leadership skills by planning and implementing a variety of activities aimed at their peers, such as P.L.A.Y. (Positive Learning About Yourself) First Workshops, where the focus is on self image, self-respect, healthy relationships and safety.

In 2010, some of the core group formed a Teens-4-Change Club at Reynolds High School to spread the message. Group members firmly believe these events will help them emphasize the importance of safe, healthy relationships. Ashley encourages other teens to become involved. “Sharing my experience makes it real for others my age. They see they’re not alone and there is help.”

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This story orignally appeared in the Forsyth County Women's Journal (FoCoWoJo). 

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