It shouldn’t hurt to be in love, speakers tell teens

Seattle School District teacher Nicole Johnson, 27, doesn’t want teens to make the mistake she made in high school — the mistake of staying silent.

  • BY Wire Service
  • Wednesday, June 4, 2008 12:00am
  • News
Nicole Johnson

Nicole Johnson

Seattle School District teacher Nicole Johnson, 27, doesn’t want teens to make the mistake she made in high school — the mistake of staying silent.

Johnson’s high-school years were shrouded by an abusive relationship, she told a group of Kentridge High School students May 30, and its effects stayed with her for years after.

“I didn’t know it didn’t have to be that way,” she said, explaining that she could have avoided the long-term scars by seeking help early on. “I’m just here to encourage you to find somebody to check in with. Just step outside for a minute and run it past someone you trust.”

Johnson spoke at the school’s Performing Arts Center Friday as part of an assembly entitled “Enough is Enough! — Taking a Stand Against Teen Relationship Violence” produced by the Cornerstone United Methodist Church Youth Group. The group, made up of area high-school students, has been organizing the assembly for the last month as one if its regular community service projects. They utilized grant money from the South King County Community Network and the Jennifer Beach Foundation to educate teens about the dangers of dating violence.

“It’s a scary thing, but it’s very real,” said youth group member and Kentlake High School student Cynthiann Heckelsmiller, 16. “A lot of people our age are going through this. Hopefully we can reach at least some of them.”

The youth group started out by sharing the warning signs of abusive behavior with the students, bringing out giant signs showing each one at a time. The signs included behaviors ranging from seemingly harmless jealousy and criticism to physical and sexual assault.

Johnson then told her story of abuse, admitting that she ignored many of those same warning signs. She said she entered high school as a freshman who was weak and unsure of herself and soon wound up dependent on a boyfriend who slowly started showing his darker side.

“We fell madly in love, as the story goes,” she said. “But I quickly became like his little accessory, and little things started happening.”

He made her stop hanging out with her friends, she said, and she soon had none. And when she got a higher grade than him on a test, he lost it, and she started purposefully lowering her grades to appease him. The relationship lasted two years, she said, finally ending after he tackled her in his front yard one day with his hands around her throat. His mother had to pry him off of her.

Johnson ended her narrative with a plea to teen girls to seek help in the early stages of abuse. She recommended communicating suspicious behavior with trusted friends who will help to objectively evaluate the healthiness of the relationship.

Youth group members followed the story with several poignant statistics about teen relationship violence, asking different numbers of students in the audience to stand to help them visualize the prevalence of the problem.

A third of the students stood to represent the 33 percent of teenagers who experience at least some level of dating violence. A larger group stood to show the 43 percent of teen dating violence victims who experience abuse at school. Seventy percent of the students stood to show the number of victims of abuse who never report it. And a third of the students stood again to show the 30 percent of murdered teenage girls who are killed by a date or boyfriend.

The Cornerstone group passed out resource information to end the assembly, asking possible Kentridge abuse victims to contact the resources or report their situation to a friend or adult. Each student took home a wristband showing the National Teen Dating Abuse Web site, www.loveisrespect.org, and the Teen Link hotline, 866-TEENLINK.

Keith Beach, Jr., president of the Jennifer Beach Foundation and Cornerstone church member, said the statistics are shocking and the problem is serious, but he thinks the youth group’s presentation will make a positive impact on Kentridge teens.

“(The youth group) just jumped on this, and they did a tremendous job,” he said. “There’s no doubt that this will reach these students. When resources are made available to people you know need help, they will be employed.”

For more information about Cornerstone United Methodist Church, located at 20730 S.E. 272nd St. in Covington, visit www.cornerstonechurch1.com.

Resources for victims of teen relationship violence:

Crisis Clinic Teen Hotline — 800-244-5767

Washington State Domestic Violence Hotline — 800-562-6025

Teen Link Hotline — 206-461-4922

Crisis Clinic Teen Link Web site — www.crisisclinic.org/youth.html

National Teen Dating Abuse Web site — www.loveisrespect.org

Contact Daniel Mooney at 253-437-6012 or dmooney@reporternewspapers.com.


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