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Contact: Suzanne Cecala, Press Office
New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence
(518) 457-5744 or suzanne.cecala@opdv.ny.gov

Janine Kava, Press Office
New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services
(518) 457-8906 or (518) 275-5508 (cell)

For immediate release: Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010

Whitehall Junior-Senior High School students join with local, state domestic violence prevention officials to call attention to teen dating abuse, importance of healthy relationships

FORT EDWARD – With Valentine’s Day just three days away, Whitehall Junior-Senior High School students today joined with local and state domestic violence prevention professionals at a press conference to call attention to the issue of teen dating abuse and stress the importance of healthy relationships.

The students are members of RAVE: Railroaders – the school’s nickname – Against Violence Everywhere, a unique club that engages boys and young men in the fight against domestic violence and other forms of violence and social injustice, including racism and gender inequality.

For the first time nationally and in New York State, the entire month of February has been designated as Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. To read Gov. David A. Paterson’s proclamation and to learn more, visit www.opdv.ny.gov and click on the purple heart logo.

“Teen dating abuse is a precursor to domestic violence, which is a terrible blight on our society,” Governor Paterson said. “By highlighting this issue for a month, rather than a week, as in the past, we put the emphasis and focus squarely where it should be: on prevention. New York State has good, strong laws to respond to domestic and dating violence, but stopping domestic violence before it even starts is our ultimate goal.”

Added Amy Barasch, executive director of the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence (OPDV): “We are pleased to support local student-based efforts such as RAVE. Teenagers can receive confusing messages about signs of love in a relationship. What may seem like flattering attention – dozens of texts or calls a day, asking where they are and what they are doing – can be a red flag for controlling and dangerous behavior. By highlighting this issue, we hope to foster an important dialogue among teenagers and their parents about what healthy relationships look and feel like.”

Established in 2006, RAVE is coordinated by the Domestic Violence Community Coordinating Council (DVCCC) of Warren and Washington Counties, which is convened by the Domestic Violence Project of Catholic Charities of Saratoga, Warren and Washington Counties. It is one of only three domestic violence prevention demonstration projects in the state funded through the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s DELTA (Domestic Violence Prevention Enhancement and Leadership Through Alliances) project.

“The New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence would like to applaud all of the members of the DELTA grant for their hard work on the issue of prevention,” said Michele McKeon, chief executive officer of the coalition. “In providing prevention tools and programming to combat teen dating violence, we will hopefully reduce incidents of teen dating violence and ultimately save lives.”

Made possible by a cooperative agreement with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the DELTA project allows communities to add a prevention focus to their coordinated community responses to domestic violence, which are designed to improve law enforcement and social services responses to these incidents. The two other DELTA-supported programs are Students Activists Ending Dating Abuse, created and coordinated by the Rockland Family Shelter (Rockland County), and A New Hope Center’s LISTEN and CHANGE for at-risk girls and boys (Tioga County).

DVCCC Coordinator Jeanne Noordsy said: “We respond to domestic and dating violence, and we also work to prevent it before it happens by challenging the underlying social norms that have allowed it. RAVE gives boys an avenue to question what it is to ‘be a man.’ We’re supporting these students’ development as the peer leaders in their school, providing examples of a new kind of male strength not based on violence. Boys and men have a vital role as allies in the work to end men’s violence against women and girls.”

Added Topher Montville and Andrea Mistretta, co-facilitators of RAVE at Whitehall Junior-Senior High School: “RAVE offers our young men an opportunity to think and act differently, to learn how to be assertive versus aggressive, and to be part of addressing a silent epidemic: teen dating violence. This is a true collaborative effort, involving faculty and staff, board members, parents and students. As adults, we teach the young men that we are not expecting perfection, but awareness of the choices they make and actions they take. RAVE members set a tone in the school that keeping any group down – including girls and women – is not cool, and they are not afraid to say it.”

The program is changing the school’s culture. According to Montville and Mistretta, it’s not uncommon to hear students say, “That’s not RAVE-like,” to call out their friends’ behaviors or attitudes.

In addition to highlighting the community-based efforts of RAVE members, OPDV officials unveiled the agency’s new Facebook page (www.facebook.com/NYSdomesticviolence) and showcased the state’s “This Isn’t Love” campaign, which uses images of candy conversation hearts emblazoned with non-traditional messages – Where R U? Answer Me! Call Me Now! and Don’t Wear That – to educate teens that controlling behavior and jealously are signs of abuse, not affection.

WoCara, a New York City-based advertising agency (www.wocara.com), donated its creative talents to develop the campaign, which features an animated web banner and posters that can be downloaded for free by visiting this page on the OPDV website: http://www.opdv.ny.gov/public_awareness/campaigns/tdvcampaigns/thisisntlove.html

In 2008, New York State passed a law enabling intimate partners – including dating couples, same-sex couples and teen-age couples – to seek civil orders of protection against their abusers; prior to the enactment of the Expanded Access to Family Court Law on July 28, 2008, a teen had to pursue an order of protection through a criminal case. From July 28, 2008 through Dec. 31, 2009, 1,095 individuals who were 21 years old or younger sought assistance in Family Courts across the state, representing approximately 9 percent of all filings made under the new law.

The Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence is charged with improving the response of state and local communities to domestic violence. OPDV provides guidance to Executive level staff on policy and legislation; conducts statewide community outreach and public education programs; and trains professionals on addressing domestic violence in a wide array of disciplines, including child welfare, law enforcement and health care.

OPDV also operates the state’s Domestic and Sexual Violence hotline, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week: 1-800-942-6906 (English and other languages) and 1-800-942-6908 (Spanish language).

The New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence is a non-profit membership organization whose mission is to eradicate domestic violence and to ensure the provision of effective and appropriate services to victims of domestic violence through community outreach, education, training, technical assistance and policy development

The DVCCC is a multi-agency council that brings together law enforcement and social services professionals that are responsible for responding to domestic violence in an effort to further enhance their cooperation and ultimate effectiveness. Through seeking ways to increase safety for victims and accountability for those who batter, the council’s goal is stopping domestic violence in its community.