Breaking the ‘cycle’
By Melanie Ruberti
LaGRANGE – Domestic violence is not an issue just facing adults anymore.
One in three teenagers experience some form of dating violence each year, said LeKae Ford. That sobering statistic adds up to 1.5 million teens nationwide.
The rapidly increasing numbers is why Ford wants to raise awareness among local teens – and parents.
Ford is a community educator and child advocate with Harmony House, a state-certified shelter for victims of domestic violence. The organization also offers outreach programs, including the one Ford runs called the Teen Dating and Violence Awareness Program.
The exhibit is geared towards children between the ages of 12 to 18. The Teen Dating and Violence Awareness program is presented in some of the Boys & Girls Clubs of West Georgia units, Teen Fusion and a few high schools within the Troup County School System, Ford said.
“I talk about the different types of dating violence: physical, sexual, emotional and psychological, which includes stalking, she explained. “I want to prevent the cycle of dating violence from repeating.”
Recently, Ford spent three days at Callaway High School with her “Red Flag” campaign. She placed red flags around the campus to grab students’ attention.
“Then I put up posters that would say, ‘Hey, I broke up with my boyfriend months ago and he still won’t go away. What should I do?’ Below that (question) would be the appropriate response for a friend to say,” Ford explained. “Most teens in abusive relationships won’t go to their parents, they’ll go to their friends for help.”
Ford wanted to reach as many students as possible, so she set up a table in the lunchroom of CHS. Each day, she created a new activity to engage the students, teach the signs of dating violence and show teens how to get help.
“We had an emoji day, where the students made an emoji against teen dating violence …” Ford explained. “I implemented a game with them. The students would pick a slip of paper out of a jar with a statement on it. They had to decide whether the statement was the sign of a healthy dating relationship, a red flag, an excuse a victim would use to protect her abuser or if it was a helpful piece of information the students didn’t know about it.”
Ford also pinned up a large poster board where students signed their names and took a pledge to stop teen dating violence.
In addition to her outreach programs, the community educator works with clients staying at the Harmony House shelter.
More often than not, victims of dating violence may have seen some sort of domestic abuse in their homes – and will continue to have abusive relationships in the future, Ford stated.
“It’s definitely a cycle, so the younger we can reach them (students), the better,” she said. “Information is key to breaking the cycle … We want to make sure we have that discussion with students. The dialog is the important part. Teen dating violence should not be an ‘elephant’ in the room.”
While Ford uses eye catching and “fun” techniques to get her point across to students, she is also open and honest with them too.
“The program (Teen Dating and Violence Awareness) impacts a lot of people – and sometimes hits a nerve,” she said. “I’ve had some students get up and leave the room because the information hit close to home. But then they talk to me about it.
“That’s one of the goals: we want students to know Harmony House is here to help them and also let them know their options,” Ford continued. “I think a lot people feel backed into a corner (in a violent relationship). You don’t have to feel like that. No one needs to treat you like that; reach out to your friends or to the Harmony House.”
She hopes in the future, students will take the reign and lead their peers in taking a stand against teen dating violence.
Ford will present the Teen Dating and Violence Awareness program at Troup County High School in the next few weeks.
Anyone wanting more information on the program or would like a presentation at their school or organization can contact LeKae Ford at 706-885-1526, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For anyone needing help with an abusive situation, adult or teen, contact the Harmony House crisis line at 706-885-1525. The line is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Melanie Ruberti is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. She can be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.