HILLSBOROUGH, NJ - February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and Safe+Sound Somerset, Somerset County’s designated domestic violence organization, is inviting peer leaders to help build communities where safety and respect can flourish.

Safe+Sound Somerset is hosting the second annual SPEAK™ Teen Leadership Conference at Raritan Valley Community College on Saturday, Feb. 22 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. The conference, which is free for high school students to attend, features interactive workshops and presentations led by peers and community leaders sharing their stories of how they use their personal power for individual, community and systematic impact. The deadline for online registration is Feb. 14.

One in three American teenagers will experience physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner before high school graduation. It is not a matter of if it’s happening in middle school and high schools; it’s a matter of who is it happening to, and who is an abuser. Additionally, females between the ages of 16-24 are 3 times more likely to experience intimate partner violence than at any other age. These alarming statistics apply to all definitions of dating: in-person or online, casual or serious. They are also completely preventable.

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Parents and professionals who work with preteens and teens can show that they care by taking teenage relationships seriously and openly discussing healthy, unhealthy, and abusive relationships. Ideally, in a healthy relationship, partners should remain on equal footing, make major decisions together, respect each other’s boundaries, and lead lives outside the relationship. Each partner has rights and responsibilities within that relationship.

Abuse is a pattern of behaviors used to gain power and control over another person in a dating relationship. It can take on many forms, including physical, emotional, sexual, financial, verbal, digital, and stalking. Teens should identify their own boundaries with technological communication and know where and who to reach out to for help, whether for themselves or for a friend.

Key Discussion Points

Love is NOT abuse or violence. It should feel good.

Each person in a relationship deserves respect and has rights and responsibilities.

Just because it is in the media or happening in a friend group does not mean it’s healthy.

Jealousy happens in relationships, but you do not need to be jealous to show love.

It is never too late to talk about dating abuse.

For more information about the SPEAK™ Teen Leadership Conference, contact Jessica Skultety at jskultety@safe-sound.org or 908-359-0003, ext. 214 or online at www.safe-sound.org. 

Among many other services, Safe+Sound Somerset offers a 24/7 hotline: 866-685-1122. Call or text for information, support, and services including safety planning and individual and group counseling for teens and adults. Services are provided free of charge, in a confidential and culturally sensitive environment.