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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 12/ 4/2009

Holder, Duncan hear bad news about domestic violence-and good things teens are doing to help

By Valerie Strauss

We live in an era where singer Chris Brown beat up Rihanna, his girlfriend, and the percent of kids who thought she deserved it were in the double digits.

Then rumors that Elin Nordegren roughed up her husband, Tiger Woods, got so loud this week that Woods publicly denied them even as he apologized for “transgressions.”

Some $4 billion has been spent on programs and policies to prevent domestic violence since the 1995 Violence Against Women Act was passed by Congress, but domestic violence among young people is believed to be increasing and the number of victims is startling.

So it seems like a perfect time for a public discussion about domestic violence and healthy relationships with teenagers--and that’s what Attorney General Eric Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan led yesterday at the Justice Department.

They sat down with a group of teens who are part of a nonprofit organization called “"Start Strong"” and heard personal testimony from young people who grew up in homes wracked by domestic violence but decided to break the cycle and work to prevent it.

“Start Strong” is the largest initiative ever funded to target11- to 14-year-olds to promote healthy relationships as the way to prevent teen dating violence and abuse. Partners in 11 communities across the country---Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Bridgeport, Bronx, Idaho, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Oakland, Providence and Wichita--work to create prevention models focusing on education, policy change, community outreach and social marketing campaigns.

Teenagers are trained to talk to other teens about relationships, offering powerful personal testimony that can be far more effective than a lecture from an adult.

Here’s what these teens are up against: (in list form, as Friday is List Day on The Answer Sheet; statistics come from a variety of government agencies):

*Approximately 1 in 3 adolescent girls in the United States is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner.

*Nationwide, nearly 1 in 10 high school students has been hit, slapped or physically hurt on purpose by a boyfriend or girlfriend.

*Forty-five percent of girls know a friend or peer who has been pressured into having either intercourse or oral sex.

*In a 2009 survey of parents, three out of four reported that they had a conversation with their teen about what it means to be in a healthy relationship. BUT 74 percent of sons and 66 percent of daughters said they have NOT had a conversation about dating abuse with a parent in the past year, revealing a huge communications disconnect in families.

*Of the teens in an abusive relationship, fewer than one in three confide in their parents about that relationship.

*One in five older teen girls and 1 in 10 younger teen girls (ages 13 to 16) have electronically sent or posted nude or semi-nude photos or videos of themselves. And 37 percent of teen girls have sent or posted sexually suggestive text, e-mail or instant messages.

Holder and Duncan heard Elidusa Gomes-Almeida, a 15-year-old sophomore from Boston talk about growing up in fear, listening and watching abuse in her own home.

They listened to Rick Rodriguez, a 16-year-old senior from Providence, R.I., talk about the violence he saw, too, in his own family, as well as among his friends: “A lot of them don’t see anything wrong with treating their girlfriends badly.”

And, he admitted, he, too, had “acted it out.” But, he added, “I’ve learned from my mistakes.”

After hearing story after story from the students, Holder asked what the public schools should do to help curb the epidemic and whether Duncan should make the issue a priority, the students were quite clear:

Dealing with these issues is just as important as scoring well on reading and math tests.

“You guys would be amazed at how much this stuff is intertwined,” said Amber Johnson, a 16-year-old junior in Providence, R.I., adding that kids can’t do well in school when their outside lives are unhealthy.

Work on the social and emotional parts of a child’s life, she said, and academic success can follow. “If we help teens define what a healthy relationship is and what love is we will be killing a lot of birds with one stone.”

Duncan said he understood that the issue was important, and that his department would consider it as it develops priorities for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

I hope Duncan really heard what the teenagers told him yesterday.

For more on Education, please see

By Valerie Strauss  | December 4, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Health  | Tags:  domestic violence, teen violence  
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The Tiger Woods saga shows that Congress now needs to pass a Violence Against Men Act, in order to level out the field a little. I am so tired of all these stories about aggressive men beating up defenseless women. Now we are getting a glimpse of the real life.

Posted by: edwardallen54 | December 4, 2009 7:53 AM | Report abuse

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