When 21-year old Long Beach resident, Jenny, first started attending weekly meetings at the WomenShelter to support her mother who was a domestic violence survivor, she didn’t know she was in a violent relationship of her own.
Although Jenny tried several times to end the abusive relationship she shared with the father of her 5-year old daughter, she kept coming back.
“I stopped attending the meetings for a while, but then a few months after I had my daughter I came back because it got worse,” Jenny said. “The beatings started happening, the slapping, the name-calling, and eventually he beat me to the point of sending me to the hospital.”
February’s Teen Dating Violence Awareness month recognizes the millions of teenagers and young adults throughout the country, like Jenny, that are experiencing some sort of violence and trauma in their intimate relationships.
About 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner every year, according to Break the Cycle, a national nonprofit working to end teen dating violence and abuse.
For the first time in Long Beach, the WomenShelter in partnership with other organizations, individuals, and businesses like Portfolio’s Coffee House, is commemorating the month. Through hosting a series of events around teen dating violence in the city, they hope that poetry, theater, and painting will serve as both a healing and creative process for young survivors.
“Teen dating violence used to be a day; then it became a week; and now is a month,” said Giovanna Martinez, youth service coordinator at the WomenShelter. “I thought, I would really love to bring this to Long Beach even if it’s something small but to bring awareness, so why not social justice through the arts.”
While WomenShelter is using the month to bring more awareness in the city, the organization has seen some setbacks of its own.
Because of health class cuts throughout the Long Beach school district last year, their ability to reach youth through traditional means has been limited.
“That was a major challenge for us because we were doing all the high schools,” Martinez said. “I think at our peak we were reaching 5,000 high school students a year and doing about 200-something presentations. Now it’s definitely cut in half. The impact is diminished.”
Having a presence in the middle schools help, but with limited funds, they have to get creative, Martinez explains.
“It is about keeping those connections and the camaraderie with the teachers who are the lifeline to these youth,” Martinez said.
Their last event, happening Feb. 28, is online and uses social media to get the word out. WomenShelter is inviting the community to wear purple to commemorate survivors of domestic violence, take a picture and upload it on their page on Facebook.
They hope that with more awareness, more young people like Jenny will come out of the shadows and seek help.
“I am very grateful that even though I kept going back, [Giovanna] never judged me, she believed in me,” Jenny said. “Ever since I came out of counseling it made me grow stronger and I just want to get the word out about what I went through and share it.”
The WomenShelter’s youth program serves youth, both young men and women, who have witnessed domestic violence in their homes from ages 7-18 and transition-aged youth ages 18-24. In addition, it also hosts teen dating violence survivors group for those experiencing violence ages 14-19. For more information on these groups and outreach presentations contact the WomenShelter of Long Beach at 562-437-7233.
Other organizations working in the prevention of violence and that provide counseling or related services throughout Long Beach include: