COUNTY—Noting that February is often synonymous with love, and therefore an apt time to discuss what constitutes a healthy relationship, the Victims' Intervention Program (VIP) met with the Wayne County Board of Commissioners on Valentine's Day to receive a proclamation declaring February to be National Teen Dating Violence Awareness & Prevention Month.

“It's the perfect time to say 'love should not hurt,'” said Michele Minor Wolf, VIP's Executive Director. “It should feel good. It should be healthy.”

The proclamation notes that one in three adolescent girls in the United States is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner.

This is the highest victimization rate among other types of violence affecting youth, made worse by the fact that only 33 percent of teens who are in an abusive relationship report it, states the proclamation.

Additionally, 81 percent of parents think it is not an issue or say they are unsure if it is.

Those affected by dating violence “...are more likely to use drugs and alcohol, are at grater risk of suicide, and are much more likely to carry patterns of abuse into future relationships,” reads the proclamation.

It further notes those who experience dating abuse are also more likely to develop self-esteem and body image issues, unhealthy dieting and engage in “risky sexual behavior.”

Wolf noted, while there is a physical abuse component to teen dating violence, “what we find to be much more damaging is they psychological/emotional part.”

This includes bullying, shaming, and deriding one's romantic partner.

“In a teen's life,” said Wolf, “their whole world is about their relationships and about their high school friends. So when you become the outcast, when you become shamed...that is devastating.”

Another aspect of teen dating violence involves sexual assault, occurring when an individual disregards the consent of another in moments of physical intimacy.

Wolf noted there are also some instances of sexual assault where individuals are bullied, tricked or exploited into sending intimate photos to another.

“They call it 'revenge porn,'” said Wolf. “There's laws about it, but the fact is, these kids aren't thinking sometimes. They think it's going to be safe where it's going, but then it goes all over the school, all over social media, and then they're just further ashamed and embarrassed.”

Teen dating violence can also present as stalking behaviors, said Wolf.

In an effort to spread awareness of teen dating violence and promote healthy love and relationships, members of VIP's outreach and counseling staff have been visiting local schools in Wayne County.

This year's theme for Teen Dating Violence Awareness & Prevention Month is “Your love is unique … with consent,” explained Darcy Simonelli, VIP children's counselor and outreach specialist.

Simonelli explained VIP brought to their presentations large, blank puzzle pieces which students could draw or write their ideas of what love is.

When they were finished, all the pieces were brought together to show how an individual's idea can connect to the greater network of ideas on love, relationships and consent.

“People show their love in several different ways and there's really no proper way to show your love,” said Simonelli.

VIP also made valentines to share with their clients in support of all they're going through.

Signs of healthy and unhealthy relationships

Loveisrespect.org, a website dedicated to promoting healthy relationships and helping victims out of abusive situations,notes healthy relationships consist of healthy communication, and boundaries.

Healthy communication involves all parties:

• speaking up to voice their concerns

• respecting each other's values, wishes, thoughts, feelings and privacy;

• reaching compromises to solve conflicts

• and being supportive of one another.

Noting that healthy boundaries help those in a relationship understand the relationship and feel secure in it, loveisrespect states healthy boundaries exist when those in a relationship are comfortable to:

• go out with their friends as individuals

• participate in activities and hobbies as individuals

• and maintain private log-in information for emails, social media accounts and cell phones.

Even healthy relationships can benefit from a boost every now and then.

Loveisrespect notes sharing a common interest together and discussing the aspects each most appreciate about the relationship and why they wish to remain together can be one way to healthily boost a relationship.

Unhealthy, abusive relationships revolve around a cycle of power and control whereby an individual will use physical, emotional and psychological means to intimidate or control another.

Abusive parties may be possessive, insulting, make jealous accusations, yell, be humiliating, seek to isolate their partners and assert control via physical assault, states loveisrespect.

Those who may be experiencing signs of an abusive relationship are urged to seek help from support systems such as family, friends, or advocacy groups if necessary.

Loveisrespect reminds those in a relationship to support their own needs, wellbeing, safety and security, leaving an abusive relationship behind.

“You can't force your partner to alter their behavior if they don't believe they're wrong,” states the website.

More information

VIP supports victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, human trafficking and other personal crimes.

Those in need of assistance can get help or learn more by calling the 24-hour hotline, 570-253-4401, or visiting www.vipempowers.org.

More information about teen dating violence and healthy relationships can be found online at www.loveisrespect.org, www.futureswithoutviolence.org, and www.breakthecycle.org.

Help can also be found by calling 1-866-331-9474 or texting “loveis” to 22522.