Teaching teens how to recognize, speak out against relationship abuse

Lois K. Solomon

Sun Sentinel (subscription required)

Nov 26, 2015

Teen Advocates at their first TARA meeting along with facilitator, Aliza Schulman, LCSW, JFS Domestic Abuse Education and Action Program Coordinator.

Some teenagers, unaccustomed to speaking out when they see relationship abuse, are learning to recognize the signs and take a stand.

They are members of Teens Against Relationship Abuse, a new Ruth and Norman Rales Jewish Family Services program designed to help them identify mistreatment and guide the abused and the abuser in the direction of help.

Threats of suicide, eating disorders, cyberbullying, nude pictures posted on social media: Life for teens has become increasingly complicated, as have their relationships. In a 2005 study, one in three teenagers reported knowing a peer who had been hurt by a partner.

Aliza Schulman, a social worker at the family service, said she has been observing the trend and thought the best way to combat it would be to transform teens' standard approach, which is often to observe, but not to intervene.

"Teens listen to teens," Schulman said. "I wanted to have kids who know what to do when a friend comes to them with an issue."

She chose 15 of 25 applicants to become Teen Advocates, who will meet four times a year to learn the psychology of abuse and tackle scenarios and how to react. Discussion topics include self-esteem, misconceptions about abuse and warning signs, as well as how to intervene with minimal confrontation.

"I was looking for teens with a sense of being bothered by injustice," Schulman said. "They were much more aware about this issue than I would have guessed."

Lisbeth Rubin, one of the Teen Advocates, said she has witnessed mistreatment and not known exactly what to do.

"You see people talking down to each other," said Rubin, a sophomore at Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale. "It's uncomfortable to hear."

Schulman told the girls there are subtle forms of abuse that are not violent, such as pressure to have sex, asking for a partner's computer passwords or isolating a partner from friends.

She offered sample expressions to show misgivings, such as: "I'm concerned that since you're going out with Marc, I never get to see you anymore," or "It's not acceptable for her to talk to you that way, even though you're going out."

Vida Romano, 17, a junior at Yeshiva High School in Boca Raton, said she has found it awkward to show her friends when she is concerned about them.

"You want to say something, but the situation passes and you don't want to go back to it," Romano said. "I've seen boys make fun of an unpopular boy in class. With girls, it's more subtle, but it can be more hurtful."

Schulman told the teens about unhealthy relationship tactics, such as threats, denial of blame and intimidation, and healthy relationships, which are defined by trust, autonomy, accountability and communication.

She also offered tips for helping a friend who is being abused, including showing them how to recognize it, not judging them and how to get help.

"A big part of this is bystander intervention," Schulman said. "I want them to be able to say, 'This is not OK.'"

For more information, call Schulman at 561-852-3333.

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