When high school senior Emily Graham found out how common teen dating violence is among her peers, she got angry.

“How can we let this keep going on without doing something to stop it?” said Graham, a senior at Riverside Brookfield High School.

Graham, along with hundreds of Chicago-area high school soccer players, filmed public service announcements that will be shared on social media channels throughout February, which is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. The PSAs, which will be shown on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, highlight the problem and offer resources to break the cycle of abuse.

“It lets people know we’re not going to judge you and we’ll be here for you. We want you to be happy and safe, and no one deserves to be in an abusive relationship,” Graham said.

A study published in 2015 in JAMA Pediatrics analyzed responses from a 2013 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey of high school students who dated and found 1 in 5 female students and 1 in 10 male students experienced some form of teen dating violence during the past 12 months.

Dating violence can be physical, psychological or sexual and occur in person or electronically. It can lead to serious, long-lasting effects, including making youth more likely to develop depression and anxiety, engage in unhealthy behaviors or exhibit antisocial behaviors and think about suicide, according to the CDC.

The students featured in the PSAs said they hope the project is a conversation starter.

“A lot of these topics are pushed behind the curtain or stay behind the curtain because they’re touchy subjects to talk about. Our goal is to have everyone talk about this more,” said Dominic Wistocki, a senior at Lockport Township High School. “The more people talk about it, the more people know about it.”

In addition to the social media videos, students from Chicago-area high schools plan to drop off a $1,000 check and donated items to Between Friends, a Chicago-based social service agency that provides free counseling and a crisis hotline for domestic violence victims.

The outreach is part of the “Making a Difference On AND Off the Field” community service campaign presented by Buddy’s Helpers, the charitable arm of the PepsiCo Showdown, an annual high school soccer tournament in which more than 200 schools participate.

Between Friends implemented its teen dating violence prevention program in 1995, working with schools in the Chicago area to help middle and high school students identify warning signs and build conflict resolution and communication skills.

“Talking about teen dating violence prevention is so important because we want kids to know what to look for and have an understanding of how to build healthy relationships,” said Colleen Norton, the nonprofit’s director of programs.

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Just like the #MeToo and the #Time’sUp movements, talking about teen dating violence and raising awareness through social media can help show how prevalent the problem is and that those experiencing it are not alone, she said. “The more the youth can talk about it, the more we can get them up there to say this is not OK, the better,” Norton said.

Because youth tend to seek support from their peers, seeing and hearing teens talk about dating violence might encourage someone to reach out for help.

“The biggest turning point for any survivor is the time they reached out and finally told somebody about something that happened to them. The PSAs might be that time,” Norton said.

Graham said dating violence was addressed in her sophomore health class, but she would like to see the topic of healthy relationships revisited more often in school.

“If you have constant assurance of what is proper and right, you feel more comfortable and know what should be happening,” she said.


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