Posted by Sara Berkowitz

Do you remember what it felt like to be finishing high school? The excitement of moving on coupled with the anxiety of leaving the familiar make spring of senior year a challenging time for students and parents alike. On Sunday, May 15 JF&CS TeenSafe joined that conversation, leading "Beyond the College Tour: Recognizing and Responding to Dating Abuse and Sexual Assault on Campus," a workshop for high school seniors, parents, and other supportive adults.

In response to the increased concern over sexual assault and relationship violence on college campuses, this event was geared towards preparing students (and their parents) to navigate relationships after high school. TeenSafe High School Peer Leaders highlighted the fact that while dating violence is much more common than people realize, not every abusive relationship includes violence. They talked about other controlling tactics that abusive partners use to pressure or force their partner to stop spending time with friends, withdraw from extracurricular activities, and make certain choices about classes and majors. They also asked the audience to consider challenges teens face in breaking up and offered supportive ways to help friends when they are experiencing a controlling relationship.

TeenSafe alumnae spoke about their campus experiences, addressing the differences between relationships in high school and those in college. They shared that not only is there more freedom to make your own choices but also more responsibility to set up boundaries in relationships as life on campus is so interconnected. The alumnae mentioned support systems on campus (counseling services, student groups, RAs, etc.) while also addressing the need to take time to build trusting friendships. They offered guidance on balancing relationships with time for yourself and strategies they've developed with their friends to make sure everyone is safe. These included checking in with friends before going out at night, making sure people go out in groups, and building supportive friendships for when situations are challenging.

Ruth Abelmann, Associate Director of Residential Life at University of New Hampshire, also shared her insights about the reality of sexual and intimate partner abuse in college and preventive measures students can take on campus. She reviewed the challenges universities face when managing and responding to sexual assault and relationship abuse and what parents and students can expect from a university when looking to them for assistance. She facilitated a conversation around how parents can engage with their students before they go to college, cues to listen for when their students are in college, as well as available resources.

Though we cannot single handedly ensure safety for our students as they leave for college, TeenSafe was excited to provide a forum to acknowledge that these issues exist and to encourage a conversation as a first step towards increasing safety on campus.

TeenSafe is JF&CS Journey to Safety's response to dating abuse in our community. TeenSafe offers a peer leadership group for high school students as well as community workshops. Learn more or apply to be a Peer Leader today.

TeenSafe is funded by a generous grant from the Miriam Fund.

Sara Berkowitz is the Youth Educator of Journey to Safety's TeenSafe Program, where she runs groups designed to teach teenage girls to identify healthy and unhealthy relationships and help them become mentors for their peers. Sara has years of experience working with teens in school, youth group, and camp settings and is passionate about empowering youth to make change in their community. She also works for Wayside Youth & Family Support Network as an In-Home Therapist and Peer Leadership Advisor. Sara has a BA from Ithaca College and an MSW from Boston College.