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Guest editorial: Break cycle of dating violence

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The following guest editorial was written by Stefanie Christenson with Someplace Safe in Alexandria.

February is known as the month to show our love to friends, family and partners. As we are showing our love for those around us, let's not forget an unhealthy epidemic facing our youth today.

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February was designated as Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month by Congress three years ago. Violence in relationships knows no age, race or gender. Physical aggression occurs in 1-in-3 teen dating relationships, according to the American Psychological Association.

Teen dating violence is often unnoticed by parents, and even unrecognized as abnormal by those teens experiencing it. As President Obama stated in his Presidential Proclamation of Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month in 2011, it takes place in both typical and atypical mediums.

Our efforts to take on teen dating violence must address the social realities of adolescent life today. Technology such as cell phones, email, and social networking websites play a major role in many teenagers' lives, but these tools are sometimes tragically used for control, stalking, and victimization. Emotional abuse using digital technology, including frequent text messages, threatening e-mails, and the circulation of embarrassing messages or photographs without consent, can be devastating to young teens.

Because teens are well connected through today's technology, cell phones and the Internet have become tools of dating violence through which emotional abuse and sexual violence can occur. More than 80 percent of adolescents own at least one form of new media technology (e.g., computer, cell phone) and they are using this technology with increasing frequency to text, instant messaging, e-mail, blog, and access social networking websites.

Using technology to threaten, harass or bully a peer is called electronic aggression, and a significant majority of parents are completely unaware that technology such as this poses a risk for teens.

Teen dating violence affects teens and their families across the country, and it will take each and every one of us to stop it. We all must advocate for the young people in our lives, provide a safe space to report instances of teen dating violence, and set examples of healthy and appropriate displays of love, respect and affection. As President Obama stated:

"The time to break the cycle of teen dating violence is now, before another generation falls victim to this tragedy...During National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month - and throughout the year - let each of us resolve to do our part to break the silence and create a culture of healthy relationships for all young people."

Teen dating violence is not an argument every once in a while, or a bad mood after a bad day. Dating violence is a pattern of violent behavior that someone uses against their partner to cause pain.

If you are a victim of teen dating violence or know someone who is, please contact your local law enforcement agency - Alexandria Police Department, (320) 763-6631, Douglas County Sheriff's Office, (320) 762-8151 or Someplace Safe at (320) 762-1995.

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