(Editor's note: Since domestic violence is a sensitive, highly emotional subject, the members and advisor of RESPECT asked that the Wetzel Chronicle only identify them by first name.)
With Valentine's Day just one day away, one would think that local teenagers would be focused on all the surprises that the season of love brings-whether it be roses, flowers, chocolates, cards, or nabbing that special someone as a Valentine. However, early Monday afternoon, several Paden City students stood outside of the middle/high school planting flags in the ground, symbolizing their peers who are not involved in the above mentioned loving and butterfly-invoking romance, but peers who are actually involved in a very dangerous opposite.
The students are small in number, shy and quiet, yet determined. They make up the RESPECT club. When driving on state Route 2 through Paden City, one can now see the array of purple flags in the high school's yard. These flags were placed by both the middle and high school branches of the club on a very windy, blustery Monday morning. Needless to say, it's difficult to stomach when realizing that each flag represents a Paden City student who has likely been a victim of teen dating violence. This is based on statistics that predict one of every four teens are victims of dating violence
February is teen dating violence awareness month. The month began as a full awareness month three years ago. According to the website TeenDVmonth, "For years, young people across the nation have organized to put a stop to dating abuse. With their adult allies, they achieved a major victory in 2005 when the importance of addressing teen dating abuse was highlighted in the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. The following year, Congress followed the lead of dozens of national, state, and local organizations in sounding the call to end dating abuse. Both Chambers declared the first full week in February "National Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Awareness Week." In 2010, the entire month of February was declared Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.
When asked why they joined the RESPECT club, these Paden City students don't have to think twice about their answer: to raise awareness. As high school club member Samantha states, "We want to raise awareness that it does happen, and the things you can do to prevent it from happening and how to to stop it." Club member Dana adds, "If you've been around it, you really want to spread the word."
Likewise, the club members don't have to think about the unfortunate examples and instances of violence that they have witnessed amongst their peers. "He was shy; she was the aggressive type . . . It was an abusive relationship," states one member. Another adds about another instance: "He was aggressive. If she didn't wear clothing he approved of . . . He was very violent; he broke her wrist."
When asked what advice they would give to a fellow peer who is unsure as to whether or not he or she is involved in an abusive relationship, club member Dana states, "If you have to think of whether it is bad or not, there is obviously a problem."
Tiffany wisely adds, "If they do it once, they will always do it."
As for the middle school club, surprisingly, the feedback for such a group has not always been positive, especially from the members' fellow peers. Despite the real and serious problem of teen dating violence, it was said that some fellow students mock a group known as the "RESPECT" club. However, when asked if they would still be a part of the club next year, all four present middle school members, bravely stated "yes." When asked how the high schoolers deal with the peer pressure to not be part of the group, high school club member Tiffany states, "I just don't listen, because I don't like to deal with people like that."
At Monday's club meetings, the groups' posters were a large part of the conversation. Different members' designs included a girl with a black eye, crying; a rose, with the phrase "Love shouldn't hurt;" a poster with purple ribbons, which are the symbols for domestic violence. High schooler Shelby stated that her poster was made up with the statistics of teen dating violence.
Club leader Aimee states that teen dating violence usually "starts out mental. For the first three or four months, everything is all good. Then they will tell you not to wear your hair that way or your clothes that way. Once they realize you are getting upset, they will apologize."
She continued, "The second phase they nudge you, shove you against a locker, pull your hair . . . The last phase . . . no remorse. It usually gets to a physical point. Sometimes it even goes to a sexual point."
The flags outside of Paden City High School, symbolizing the many young victims of a loveless relationship, will only remain up until the end of the month and will, for many, disappear out of sight and mind. Thankfully, for this young group of advocates at Paden City High School, the RESPECT club, these victims will still stand a fighting chance.
For more information on teen dating violence check out www.teendvmonth.org/ dating-violence.