TeenSafe is an initiative of JF&CS Journey to Safety. Together with TeenSafe staff, our high school-aged Peer Leaders raise awareness about teen dating abuse through in-person and Zoom workshops, social media messaging and other outreach opportunities. We also have recently updated our website with some suggested ways to start a conversation with your community about teen dating abuse.
As a program working to raise awareness about dating abuse in the Jewish community, we often have to do a little explaining about why a youth-serving organization should host a JF&CS TeenSafe workshop. Sometimes people wonder why it’s needed in a Jewish space. Sometimes people wonder why it’s needed at all, since it seems like abuse would be easy to spot and deal with without much explanation. These are both good questions.
1 in 3
Research tells us that 1 in 3 teens in the United States experiences physical, sexual, emotional and/or verbal abuse from a dating partner. This is a staggering number. This number includes Jewish teens from across the spectrum of Jewish expression in America. It also includes their non-Jewish friends and other peers in the communities where they attend school and live their lives.
Abuse is About Control
So why TeenSafe? Many people think of abuse as physical violence and yelling, both of which are pretty easy to identify. Many also assume that the teens they know would quickly end a relationship with a person who mistreated them and “that would be that.”
But here’s the thing: abuse is really about control. It’s about manipulation and coercion and guilt. It’s about one person feeling entitled to tell their partner what they can and can’t do and who they can and can’t spend time with. It’s about one person convincing their dating partner that the things that go wrong are their fault and that if they could just do better, everything would be okay.
For example, controlling and abusive people might set up “loyalty tests” – like pressuring their partner for passwords or private photos to show how committed they are to the relationship. They might push their partner to quit activities they really care about (like theater or sports or music) or stop spending time with friends or family members so that the couple can spend more time together. They might tell their partner that no one in the world understands them except for that person and they don’t know what they would do if the relationship ended. No yelling, no hitting. Just pressure to do things that will “help the relationship” or “bring us even closer together.”
From inside a relationship, abuse doesn’t always look or feel scary, especially early on. But much of the time, there’s a lot to notice – if you recognize control for what it is -- well before one person threatens, hits, or shoves their partner. It’s also important to know that a person can be very controlling or abusive without ever using violence or threats of violence at all. That’s still abuse.
This is where TeenSafe comes in. Together with our high school-aged Peer Leaders, our TeenSafe staff lead workshops that help teens and adults recognize dating abuse and offer guidance about what to do if they see, hear about, or experience it. Our single and multi-session programs are interactive and individually tailored to each site and each audience. Thanks to generous grants from The Miriam Fund and The Lauren Dunne Astley Memorial Fund, we are able to offer these programs to area youth groups, synagogues, and day schools at no cost.
New Tools for Teens, Educators, Youth Advisors and Parents/Guardians/Other Adults
February was Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month and this year’s national theme was Talk About It. Even though the month is over, we are hoping the conversation continues. Toward that end, we are excited to announce that TeenSafe has added a number of new tools to our website. Teens, educators, youth advisors, parents/guardians and other adults can find several conversation starters there, including links to blogs written by our Peer Leaders, short videos from Love is Respect, common myths about abuse, and national statistics. There are also links to available resources and more information about bringing a TeenSafe program to your community.
A rabbi wisely pointed out to us years ago that our awareness-raising workshops are both a social action/social justice program and a caring community/chesed program. Young people may use the information they learn from TeenSafe to try to change harmful cultural norms. They might use the information to help change a single life. Both responses change the world.
We hope that you will join us by talking about teen dating abuse with people in your life AND scheduling a TeenSafe program to help broaden and deepen that conversation. We look forward to connecting with you.
For more information or to schedule a workshop or workshop series, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Julie Youdovin at (781) 647-5327 x5675. You can also follow us on Instagram @teensafe_jfcs.
This post was cross-posted on Jewish Boston Teens.