COLORADO SPRINGS — February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. This year’s theme is “Love is Respect.”
TESSA is working to raise awareness about the issue. And it’s a much bigger issue than you may think.
“1 in 3 teens has experienced some type of abuse, whether that’s physical, sexual, or emotional abuse,” Meghan McHugh, Youth and Children’s Program Manager said.
TESSA works to help all victims of domestic violence, sex assault, stalking, and human trafficking in El Paso and Teller Counties. They provide shelter with a 34-bed safe house, access to legal support and advocates, and have a 24/7 Safeline that victims can call.
Their calls have risen due to the pandemic.
“In a normal month, in a normal year, when we’re not in a global pandemic, we see about 800 calls a month into our Safeline. And we’ve been steadily seeing those calls between 1,200 and 1,300 calls a month,” CEO Anne Markley said.
Markley said the isolation played a big part since offenders use that tactic a lot anyway.
McHugh said the cycle of violence can start as early as 12, 13, or 14 years old.
“Are there controlling behaviors, are they putting you down, are they isolating you, are they taking away some of your privacy, are they controlling who you’re talking with, when you’re going out, what you’re wearing, what you’re allowed to wear,” McHugh said of some of the red flags to look for.
TESSA said 81 percent of parents surveyed said teen dating violence wasn’t a thing, but half of those same parents couldn’t identify red flags.
Sadly, only 2/3rds of teens affected tell someone about the abuse, and TESSA said it not only affects them but their family friends, teachers, and communities.
“We need to really talk about it and get that conversation going. Because if we’re not talking about it, our youth won’t feel safe talking about it either,” McHugh said.
TESSA is working to get into more schools to help with prevention and help teens know their boundaries. They want to teach them what healthy relationships look like and to let them know there are people they can talk to to stop the cycle in its track.
TESSA is currently working with Districts 2, 8, 11, and 14.