WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – Teaching respect at a young age was the major theme of the day at a White Plains High School news conference Thursday that addressed abusive relationships during Teen Dating Abuse Prevention Month.
“With one in five girls at risk of being physically, emotionally or sexually abused before high school graduation, this event could potentially save somebody’s life,” said CarlLa Horton, executive director of Hope’s Door, a domestic-violence prevention organization.
Horton was joined by Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, Mayor Thomas Roach of White Plains, and several White Plains High School STAR (Students Terminating Abusive Relationships) Leadership Program members.
While Astorino said his nine-year-old son is not close to dating age yet, he is taught to respect others, including his eight-year-old and three-year-old sisters.
“The education starts now,” Astorino said. “The respect for each other starts now. What’s appropriate and inappropriate starts now, at these ages; so by the time they get into high school and are starting to date and starting to deal with relationships, they know the difference between right and wrong.”
Astorino called abusive relationships unacceptable and said kids must be taught that “none of us are going to accept or put up with violence in any way, shape or form.”
Roach, who has kids in eighth and fourth grade, shared Astorino’s sentiment. “It starts at the youngest ages,” he said. “I think the message needs to be out there that there’s zero tolerance. No violence is acceptable in any relationship. By educating the young people, they can avoid getting into some serious trouble.”
Work done by Hope’s Door and the STAR program, which has ten chapters throughout Westchester high schools, to raise awareness of relationship abuse is “essential” and something Westchester supports fully, Roach said.
Horton urged those in abusive relationships not to leave without first having a safety plan.
“Leaving’s the most dangerous time for a victim of abuse,” she said. “Seventy-five percent of the murders result after leaving or announcing a serious intention to do so.”
She also called on parents to provide an example to their children of what a good relationship means, and for friends to be aware - because many of those who are abused confide in their friends, she said.
“The best thing you can do is model a relationship of respect for each other to your young children,” Horton said. “If you have any reason to believe that one of your children is being abused - either girl or boy - or that one of your children might be the abusive partner, either boy or girl, there is hope for you.”
Jeaney Paez, a White Plains High School senior and member of STAR, said she was in an abusive relationship in 2010. She credited the group for helping her through a difficult time.
“I kind of got involved because one of my peers told me about it, and I started seeing a counselor, and she helped me a lot,” said Paez. “It educated me in a lot of different things, like how to have a healthy relationship and what are the signs of an unhealthy relationship."
Paez said she likes being able to educate others about how to get out of abusive relationships, and plans to study psychology at Westchester Community College in the fall.
If you are in an abusive relationship, you can call the Hope's Door hotline at 888-438-8700. For more information, you can also check out the group's website .