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Dating violence hits national spotlight

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By Carol A. Clark

One in 10 students in New Mexico reports experiencing a physical assault by a dating partner within the past 12 months. Nationwide, one in five teenagers involved in serious dating relationships reports experiencing violence from his or her partner.To draw attention to statistics such as these, the Department of Health Office of School and Adolescent Health held the state’s first-ever Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Week, which concluded Friday.“Teen-dating violence compromises the health and well-being of New Mexico’s young people daily and places them at greater risk for truancy, substance abuse, teen pregnancy and suicide,” said Health Secretary Alfredo Vigil in a news release. His advice? “Talk to the young people in your lives so they know the importance of recognizing dating violence and what resources are available in your communities.”Cheryl Pongratz of the Los Alamos Family Council addressed the local situation during an interview Tuesday. “I know it goes on in our town,” she said. “I don’t think it’s rampant, but I know it happens because we have clients here involved in teen domestic violence. If it happens, it needs to be resolved immediately. They shouldn’t wait for a second time.”Pongratz cautions young people to understand violence can escalate and wants them to know that it’s “totally not acceptable” to hit another person even once.“Anyone involved in dating violence should talk to their parents, school counselors or nurses – not just their friends,” Pongratz said. “If they don’t feel comfortable talking with parents or school counselors or nurses, then they should talk with a private therapist who can help provide direction and put the seriousness of the situation in perspective.”Dating violence is described as controlling, abusive and aggressive behavior in a romantic relationship, according to the Dating Violence Resource Center of the National Center for Victims of Crimes website. Dating violence occurs in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships and can include verbal, emotional, physical or sexual abuse, or a combination of these.“The first step toward ending the violence is understanding it,” said Behavioral Health Manager Anna Nelson, LISW, of the Department of Health Office of School and Adolescent Health in a statement. “By sharing this information  ... we are poised to make a difference in the lives of young New Mexicans, who are both our future, and our now.”The department is working with Children, Youth and Families, Public Education departments, New Mexico Children’s Cabinet, New Mexico Domestic Violence Leadership Commission and New Mexico Commission on the Status of Women to raise awareness and educate communities about the importance of strengthening the safety and well-being of New Mexico’s young people.“CYFD is committed to this multi-systemic collaboration that will raise awareness about a critical need in New Mexico – addressing issues around teen dating violence,” said Dorian Dodson, secretary of the Children, Youth and Families Department. “Teen Dating Violence Awareness Week and Gov. (Bill) Richardson’s proclamation bring this issue to the forefront.”In the current legislative session, Richardson is advocating for stronger penalties for people who commit domestic violence. Sen. Rod Adair R-Chaves is sponsoring SB 68, which would increase penalties for the third and subsequent offenses of battery and aggravated battery against household members, including dating or intimate partners.During a townhall meeting held last year by the New Mexico Commission on the Status of Women, girls in attendance recommended the following to address dating violence:• Establish programs to promote self-confidence and programs that provide family support;• enact stricter laws concerning the domestic abuser, possibly longer sentences;• offer affordable counseling to educate about domestic violence and self worth;• train staff in these programs to work specifically with teens;• make orders of protection available to teenagers; and• fund for domestic violence shelters to offer training and information on teen dating violence to parents.“Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Week offers immense potential for positively impacting young people across the state,” Nelson said.For information, access www.ped.state.nm.us.