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Fighting abuse in teen relationships

Valentine's Day was a time to celebrate loving relationships. But maybe this holiday is also a good time for parents to check in with their teenagers who might be involved in a romantic relationship.

If you are a parent of a teenager, do you know the names and faces of three of their friends? Chances are, one of them -- maybe your own son or daughter -- will be in an abusive relationship.

The fact is teen dating violence is often hidden and unreported. Not only do teens often lack the experience to navigate romantic relationships, they may also be unable to voice their feelings or communicate when emotional situations take a turn for the worse. Even more frightening is that if adolescents find the courage to tell their friends about being in an abusive relationship, statistics show that more times than not, their friends won't know what to do to get them help.

February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month and it is a great opportunity to raise awareness and focus efforts on breaking the cycle of violence by providing information about the availability of services and the importance of healthy relationships to young victims, their families, and their communities.

While the nation's understanding of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking has increased, so too has our awareness that these forms of violence affect all age groups and that violence within relationships often begins during adolescence. However the pattern of abuse can start much earlier. Studies show that children who are victimized or witness violence may carry this experience with them to the playground, classroom and later to teen relationships and ultimately adult intimate partner violence. As professionals, parents, educators, political and business leaders and other members of our local communities, we must teach about and model healthy, non-violent relationships.

Intervention and prevention efforts are key elements to stopping the cycle of abuse and are priorities at the Department of Justice and here in the District of Kansas. Attorney General Eric Holder's Defending Childhood initiative is leveraging existing resources across the department to focus on preventing, addressing, reducing, and more fully understanding childhood exposure to violence.

In support of this initiative, the Department's Office on Violence Against Women awarded $5.6 million to 17 organizations that support services for children and caretakers including direct counseling, advocacy or mentoring for children or youth exposed to domestic and dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.

The Office on Violence Against Women administers several youth focused grant programs established by the Violence Against Women Act. Through these grants, federal funds provide unique opportunities for communities to increase collaboration among victim service providers, children, youth, and men's groups and schools to help teens understand healthy relationships. Through these partnerships, agencies can focus on educating the community, teens, and children about identifying the signs of abuse, and assist them in locating services if they or someone they know is experiencing a physically or emotionally abusive relationship.

Working to end violence in families and communities remains one of the District of Kansas' highest priorities. Every year, millions of children and adolescents across the United States are victimized and exposed to violence in their homes and communities, and often suffer severe long-term emotional and physical consequences. When these problems remain unaddressed, children are at higher risk for school failure, substance abuse, repeat victimization, and, perhaps, most disturbingly, perpetrating violent behavior later in their own lives. It is our responsibility to address this serious issue and protect our children.

I encourage everybody, especially parents, to look beyond the roses and chocolate-filled hearts that your children may have exchanged and provide an environment to talk about healthy, violence-free relationships.

Barry Grissom is U.S. Attorney for the District of Kansas.