INDIANAPOLIS — The statistics are harrowing. According to Beacon of Hope Center for Women, located on the west side of the city, one in three teen-agers is currently in an abusive relationship and of those, only 33 percent actually seek help to get away from their situation.
With such a high percentage of teens dealing with such events in their lives, in conjunction with the heightened role social media plays in many domestic violence situations, Beacon of Hope Center for Women has created an outreach program entitled “Teen Talks.” The idea is to help teens, those who interact with them, and even their parents help end the disturbing trend.
BOH notes that 50 percent of 14- to 24-year-olds have been the target of some form of digital abuse and 45 percent of teen girls know someone who has been pressured or forced into having intercourse or oral sex.
BOH is a 501(c)3 non-profit domestic violence support center for victims, that partners with shelters, police, and other agencies to advise and assist those seeking to escape and recover from their situations.
“We feel that there is a great need in the community for an outreach program for teen-agers,” said Judy House, a victims advocate at BOH, noting that most programs focus primarily on education and prevention.
“The program will include helping teens recognize the warning signs of an abusive relationship, ongoing support services so they have some place to go and talk about their situation and cope with it after they’ve left, and how to foster healthy teen relationships or gain information on how to help a friend or family member who’s being abused.”
With February being Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, BOH employees are going into schools in Center Grove, Wayne Township, and Pike Township. They want students to have a peer group where they can come together and talk about abusive relationships they may be in or even their friends or family may be in, where they feel comfortable talking about situations. They plan to speak at all schools in Marion County and surrounding counties.
Alix Channell of BOH, not far removed from being a teenager herself, said social media will be a definite focus of the program as it has become a huge ancillary issue.
“It can start out with those little things, having controls over passwords or who their friends are, and move onto something physical,” she said. “A lot of times the teen-age group gets overlooked because it’s dating and not as serious as people living together or being married.
“I think (social media) has changed everything completely for all teenagers. They can always constantly be in communication with each other. It’s just another way for abusers to have control and keep tabs on them. Sexting has become a huge epidemic. Any channel of communication you can get to the person to control them is a form of jealousy and it has been on the rise because of social media.”
BOH Executive Director Terry Moore said the program has seen a groundswell of popularity since she spoke at the other demographic they aim to hit, beauty colleges.
“I spoke to about 50 to 60 teens and I made an announcement that anyone that is in a domestic violence situation and they’d like to talk to me, I would stay around,” she said. “I ended up staying for over two hours and that’s really scary. We have these audiences where we pull that out and let them know we are here for them. It’s really been eye opening for me.
“It’s difficult for adults to pinpoint where their children are when they’re in a relationship. It can happen with subtle signs where the abuser might not be explosive in their temper but they might say subtle things like they don’t like (the person they’re dating) being around someone, even a family member. Teens don’t recognize this as an abusive sign. They think ‘he cares about me and wants to be around me all the time.’ It’s one thing to educate the teens, but they also need to know where to go. They might not be ready to do anything about their situation, but we can put the bug in their ear that there is a place they can go and people who will talk to them.”
Channell said no one besides the teen and their parents should have access to any of their social media passwords.
“Healthy social media can be difficult to measure because you have schools now that give kids laptops and iPads,” she said. “Teens sometimes feel like they’re trapped in their situation.”
Moore said one of their goals is to be able to speak to the parents of teens.
“I think parents are becoming scared of their children,” she said. “We’re seeing more and more teens abusing their parents than we ever have. This is just a total change in society. We want to encourage the parents.”
According to statistics from BOH, 82 percent of parents feel confident they could recognize signs of their children’s abuse but 58 percent could not correctly identify all of the warning signs.
It was a recent award, the Teen Empowerment Award by the Indianapolis Professionals Association late last year, that sparked the fast track of this program focused on teens.
“That gave us a sign that this is the direction we need to focus on,” Moore said. “So we hadn’t even launched the program, but it became very clear to us that this is what we are supposed to do.”
Those who feel they may be in an abusive relationship are encouraged to call BOH’s crisis line at 731-6140. More information about the center and the program may be found online at www.beaconofhopeindy.org.