N.H. Bar Association launches teen dating awareness series at Concord High School
The teen dating violence statistics presented to her Concord High School civics class surprised junior Sarah Harper.
Almost 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner. One in three adolescents is a victim of physical, sexual or emotional abuse from a boyfriend or girlfriend, and 1 in 10 high school students has been purposefully injured by a relationship partner.
Jaye Rancourt, president of the New Hampshire Bar Association, presented the figures during a classroom visit Thursday morning.
“I knew there was abuse out there, but I didn’t know how many people, especially in high school, who are in relationships that are abusive,” she said.
Rancourt was in Concord this week to kick off the bar association’s “When Love Hurts,” a new classroom program aimed at raising awareness and preventing teen dating violence through education. The program includes video clips, written handouts and student discussions, and there are plans to bring it to other schools in the state.
Volunteer lawyers can help students understand that abusive conduct, even nonviolent actions, can be considered crimes, Rancourt said. Most importantly, they can send a message that the targets of this behavior are entitled to protection. A key piece of the program focuses on the help available to victims. “I hope that they take away from this that there are places to go for help. I think knowing what resources are out there is important,” Rancourt said.
About one-third of students in Laurie Gordon’s civics class raised their hands to indicate they knew a person who had been harassed or threatened through text messages or social media. Rancourt said these persistent phone calls, text messages or social media posts about someone all qualify as abuse. “The laws are behind the time in addressing issues coming up with social media,” she said.
The “When Love Hurts” launch coincided this week with the announcement that the University of New Hampshire is one of three universities tapped by a White House task force to do further research related to campus sexual assault.
The message resonated with the juniors and seniors in Gordon’s class.
“It shocks me how much it occurs and how little it is recognized in our community and our society,” Tyler Hussey, a senior, said afterward. “People aren’t necessarily aware of all the resources that are out there and available to them.”
If a student is a victim of domestic violence or knows someone who might be, Rancourt urged them to consider telling family or friends rather than saying nothing. “Keeping it to yourself and trying to deal with it on your own could result in tragedy,” Rancourt said.
The presentation also touches on the legal element of dating abuse. Rancourt said victims of abuse have legal recourse, and outlined the criminal repercussions of abuse.
“In health class ,they always tell us about dating violence. It’s kind of interesting to hear it from a legal standpoint, so we actually know what we can do,” Emily Thomas, a senior, said after the discussion.
The bar association will continue the program with stops in Epsom, Timberlane and Manchester, Rancourt said. The bar association can pair interested schools or other youth organizations with volunteer lawyers who can present the program.
“If other schools are interested in the program, we can do it anytime,” Rancourt said. “Right now, we have more lawyer volunteers than schools who are using it. If schools want it, we would be happy to do it.”
For more information on “When Love Hurts” presentations, contact NHBA Law Related Education Coordinator Robin Knippers at email@example.com.
(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)