- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 9, 2005

A new high school curriculum that would teach teenagers about violence in relationships won plaudits yesterday from students at Cesar Chavez Public Charter High School in Northwest, some of whom have become champions of the cause.

The “Love Is Not Abuse” curriculum, spearheaded by fashion conglomerate Liz Claiborne Inc., would teach teenagers how to deal with and prevent physical and verbal abuse and sexual pressure in dating relationships.

The fashion company is partnering with Break the Cycle Washington DC, which teaches city middle- and high-school students about violence in relationships.

“I feel as if a lot of teens my age don’t know what a healthy relationship is, and we need to know what the warning signs are before something tragic happens,” said Tyisha Smallwood, 17, who attends Chavez.

About 15 Chavez students — some of whom like Tyisha intern at Break the Cycle — and activists against domestic violence, authors, educators and researchers gathered at the National Press Building yesterday to discuss the importance of implementing the new curriculum.

Jane Randel, vice president of corporate communications for Liz Claiborne, revealed the findings of a national survey the Illinois-based Teenage Research Unlimited conducted in February.

This is “an issue that people seem to think affects only adults, but in reality is something that teenagers face everyday either in their own relationships or in those of their friends,” Ms. Randel said.

The survey of 700 teenagers ages 13 to 18 found:

• 57 percent of American teenagers know someone who has been abused in a relationship.

• One in three teens know someone who has been physically abused by a dating partner.

• 13 percent of teenage girls reported being physically abused while involved in a relationship.

• 73 percent of teens said physical violence in relationships is a serious issue.

The curriculum is being developed by the Education Development Center Inc. It would target ninth-graders, ages 14 and 15, to teach them to recognize, respond and seek help if they are in abusive relationships. Advocates hope to introduce the curriculum in the fall.

Juley Fulcher, director of the D.C. office of Break the Cycle, a national nonprofit organization, said the idea behind the curriculum is to educate young people and teachers.

“We want to make sure we’re educating teachers and administrators as to who might be exhibiting signs that something is wrong,” said Ms. Fulcher, whose Northwest-based organization provides youth with prevention education, free legal services, advocacy and support.

Nicole Avey, 16, of Austin, Texas, endured five months of abuse by a boyfriend.

“I was 14, and he treated me like a princess for two weeks. Then the insults started, a push or shove here or there. He hit me so hard, he burst my right tear duct. So, I can’t cry,” she said, pointing to one side of her face.

Erika Eckstrom, a 20-year-old student at American University, was in an abusive relationship for a year before she broke up with her boyfriend.

“The first couple of months were beautiful. However, I did notice that he had a temper. Over time, his anger escalated and he would get angry and punch the walls or throw chairs,” said Ms. Eckstrom, who maintained a 3.92 grade point average during the relationship. “Eventually, he took it out on me. He would call me stupid or dumb.”

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