ORWELL — Eighth-grade students learned Wednesday about abusive relationships via a local domestic violence shelter advocate as part of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.
Julie Wood, outreach coordinator for Homesafe, the county’s domestic violence shelter for 40 years, spoke to Grand Valley Middle School students about the prevalence of abusive relationships and domestic violence in Ashtabula County.
A copy of the Star Beacon was passed around showing one weekend of police blotter compilations from the Ashtabula County Sheriff’s Office with numerous domestic violence incidents highlighted and circled.
“That’s just the incidents from the sheriff’s office,” Wood said. “It doesn’t include the villages, Ashtabula, Conneaut or Geneva.”
The typical amount of time families seek shelter at Homesafe is 30 days until housing can be found, Wood said. However, there is currently a larger family that has been living in the shelter for three months.
“We have a shortage of housing in Ashtabula County,” Wood said.
Wood highlighted this point in her presentation by showing a statistic that stated there are 3,800 animal shelters across the United States, but only 1,500 shelters for victims of domestic violence.
It was also bolstered with statistics about the amount of time home safe legal advocates spend on cases. In January alone three legal advocates have devoted more than 100 hours to legal work such as helping victims file retraining orders or prepare for trials, and they have spent 47 hours on a total of 153 calls to the shelter.
Wood, 63, told the students that not all abusive relationships or domestic violence situations involve physical abuse. She cited how she is a domestic violence survivor who left an abusive relationship that she entered in her mid 20s in which she was verbally abused daily, put down and called names.
“Once you’re called stupid so many times you look in the mirror one day and think you’re stupid,” she said. “You take on what people are telling you.”
Wood told the students to never allow someone to call them names and to never call others names.
“I’m encouraging you to be kind,” she said.
Name calling in a relationship can lead to controlling behaviors, lack of boundaries, isolation from friends and family and ultimately physical violence, she said.
The idea of talking to students started in the 1990s after a number of young women were killed by boyfriends and talking about dating violence became a health class requirement, Wood said.
“I personally feel that this opens up the kids to a conversation,” Wood said.
Lisa McClain, a Grand Valley school counselor, said she sees many students struggling with healthy relationships.
“This is good for them to hear,” McClain said. “Name calling is not OK. When I sit in an office with kids this is what we work on, that we need to hear each other. A lot of social issues are miscommunication between the kids.”
BOX: Warning sigs of an abusive relationship
Isolation from friends and family
Being blamed for everything
Constantly checking up on whereabouts or who you’re with
Checking phone or email without permission
Explosive temper or mood swings