This Isn't Love.
That's the name of LACASA's brand new campaign to promote awareness of teen dating violence and abuse in nine Livingston County high schools, including Hartland High School.
The campaign is designed to help teens understand the difference between healthy relationships and abusive relationships by teaching teens to recognize words, actions and red flag behaviors.
In 2009, February was named Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Awareness Month.
"I think a lot of times people were just linking in their teen violence efforts and dating violence efforts in October with domestic violence awareness - which is what we've always done," said Nicole Matthews-Creech, LACASA Community Education Director and Volunteer Coordinator. "But we felt that it really deserved some special attention because there is such a lack of awareness that this kind of stuff, that all this domestic violence stuff that we talk about also affects our teenagers. There's that conceptual feeling that it's just adult relationships, so why scare them and talk to them about it now."
The This Isn't Love campaign was developed by Matthews-Creech with the help of a Teen Advisory Board from several surrounding high schools.
It centers around posters featuring conversation candy hearts with negative messages such as "Where R U," "Call me," "Answer me now," "Loser" and "U R Fat."
"Just all kinds of different negative messages that often times you hear from an abusive partner or someone who is attempting to really gain control in that relationship," Matthews-Creech said. "It really brings awareness to the emotional and manipulative side of violence in a relationship that often gets passed over because we don't see the physical so we think it's okay. Because that's what we label: domestic violence is physical abuse, dating violence is physical abuse. We don't label the other stuff."
The right tools
The national statistic says 1 in 4 teenagers experience some form of violence in a relationship ranging from physical, emotional, verbal or sexual abuse, according to Matthews-Creech. The teens in the studies are identified as being between ages 13 and 19 years old.
LACASA has been involved in prevention efforts in local schools since 1996. Matthews-Creech said they survey students, asking them questions about their experiences. In the last 5 years, looking at more than 10,000 students surveyed, 42 percent have said they know someone who has experienced some sort of abuse in a relationship.
"And so we're not necessarily asking if they've experienced it, but they know somebody," she said. "And that's one of the goals of the campaign too , we want to reach out not only to the people experiencing it in their own relationships, but also their close friends. Because their close friends are going to be the ones that see it."
Matthews-Creech said the important thing is for a friend to have the resources to help, or at least have enough comfortability with the topic to address it.
"This gives them the tools," she said.