Police officers will be in classrooms across the state of New Hampshire next month trying to prevent teen dating from turning into domestic violence.
The Teen Violence Prevention and Intervention Program will be held in junior high schools and high schools in Laconia, Concord, and other cities starting in January. The goal is to help teen-agers avoid relationships that could turn violent.
Many teen-agers don’t realize they don’t have to put up with boyfriends or girlfriends who verbally abuse them, said Miami Blake, director of the Belknap County Teen Center. She has seen small disagreements escalate into yelling matches so unruly she’s had to kick young people out of the center.
“A lot of the kids who are doing it see it from their parents and [they think] that it’s okay,” she said.
Such arguments are a familiar scene in schools as well, said Ricky Dudas, a freshman at Laconia High School.
“It’s common to see a guy and girl yelling and fighting with each other in school,” he said. “They call each other everything. Sometimes it’s jealousy and sometimes they just shouldn’t be together.”
Laconia police handled more than 850 domestic violence crimes between January and September this year. In Concord, police responded to more than 1,200 incidents in that time.
Laconia Police Chief Bill Baker said he hopes sending officers into the classroom will decrease those numbers in the coming years. Concord Chief Jerry Madden agreed.
“I just think anything to deal with domestic violence and dating violence, the more information that can be provided to the community, in this case to the kids, can be real beneficial,” Madden said.
New Hampshire is modeling its program on one Baker helped create when he was director of the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Training Council. Classes will be taught by a team of four teachers from the school, two police officers, and one person from a local domestic violence shelter.
According to Baker, about 35 New Hampshire educators, local victims’ advocates, and police personnel attended two days of state-funded training in September. “The school also helps fund this by giving teachers the time off to get there,” said Tim Rice, principal of Memorial Middle School in Laconia.
“We’ve proposed a model jurisdiction approach to the problem. That means we found areas that already had a good relationship between police and schools, and we hope that they will inspire other areas to replicate their success,” said Baker.
The Teen Violence Prevention and Intervention Program is a five-day curriculum, in which a male instructor and a female instructor work together to teach kids in eighth-grade health classes. The program will commence after the first of the year, said Baker.
“It’s important that the local police are a part of this,” Rice explained. “When you offer this type of thing, it is a good idea to have police there for on-the-spot referrals. There can be kids who mention that they have seen acts of violence during the sessions.”
Rice added that teaching students about domestic violence is an important way to prevent it from happening, and to let those who are experiencing it know there are people they can turn to for help.
“Laconia is the county seat, and therefore we have a lot of city programs for low-income families. As a result, we have families in town with abusive backgrounds and special-needs children,” Rice said. He explained that the Teen Violence Prevention and Intervention Program is an attempt to address these problems.
Baker predicts three areas of benefit, similar to those he saw during his experience with the Massachusetts program. But, as with all prevention programs, it can be very difficult to measure the program’s success in a quantifiable way, so officials will have to be careful in their assessments.
“Success is measured in part by pre- and post-course surveys that measure students’ attitudes about what constitutes abuse, both on the part of young women in terms of what they will put up with, and on the part of young men in terms of how they behave,” said Baker.
He said the first goal is to find “a measurable change in they way students define abuse and respect.”
Second, Baker believes the program “provides an opportunity to strengthen local coalitions between educators, victims’ advocates, and police.”
“Finally, the program clearly strengthens the relationship between potential victims and all three of those entities. Young women who’ve been through this program will put more trust in those groups, and are more likely to reach out sooner,” he added.
“Domestic violence in some way touches kids’ lives, either directly or indirectly through friends that have those issues,” Rice said. “This is something that an ounce of prevention is going to go a long way.” n
For more information on the Teen Violence Prevention and Intervention Program, contact Carole Sousa at (617) 492-0395.