February was recognized nationally as Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (TDVAM). Members of TeenSafe, JF&CS Journey to Safety’s response to teen dating abuse in the Jewish community, have spent the past few weeks raising awareness for this very important issue. Recently, there has been a lot of publicity about controlling relationships, abuse, and gender-based violence with the #MeToo movement, which reinforces our desire to inspire change in our community.

This past weekend, TeenSafe hosted an event to welcome teenagers into our safe space at JF&CS Headquarters in Waltham. Our trained peer educators—all volunteer high school students—spoke with event attendees about ways to recognize and respond to all kinds of dating abuse. Knowing that one in three teenagers is in an abusive relationship, our goal in all of our workshops is to begin conversations that empower teens to address dating abuse with their friends.

In order to better reach teens, we utilized popular social media platforms. We designed a Snapchat filter, featuring the message “Love Should Be Safe,” and shared the flier for our event on Facebook and Twitter. Around Valentine’s Day, we custom-designed conversation candy hearts with messages of “Love Should Be Safe” and “TeenSafe,” deliberately made orange to symbolize TDVAM. They bagged these candies, attached a card encouraging the recipient to learn more about the issue, and distributed them to classmates, friends, and family. Additionally, JF&CS is tweeting about TDVAM throughout February, using the national hashtag #TeenDVmonth and our own, #loveshouldbesafe.

We know that in some families, kids may not talk about dating violence, or even dating at all, with their parents or guardians. We also know that while not all teens are dating, most know someone who is. Given that 73 percent of teens in abusive relationships would turn to their friends first for help, our goal is for everyone to learn more and to raise awareness among teens so they can recognize abuse and know what to do if they see or hear about it.

On a smaller scale, ask yourself if you can imagine starting a conversation with your family members and friends. What do you need to know or do to take that first step? Would it be in person, or perhaps better if you shared an article to lay a foundation for a follow-up discussion? While the topic may not feel relevant to everyone, the recent publicity through the #MeToo movement provides us a foundation to discuss these important issues and strive for healthy relationships.

Amanda Derby has a bachelor of arts degree from Lehigh University and a master’s of education in human development and psychology from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She became the TeenSafe coordinator for Jewish Family and Children’s Service just over a year ago. She loves being able to work in the Jewish community with teenagers and educate about a topic she feels passionate about. Helping teenagers to recognize and respond to dating abuse is very important, and she thinks bringing awareness during the month of February is an excellent way to begin doing so.

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