February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Many adults are unaware that teens experience dating violence. Yet in 2010, the U.S. Congress enhanced what had been Teen Dating Violence Awareness Week to Teen Dating Violence Awareness month, based on the rising number of incidents in teens ages 11 to 17 across the country.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report one in four teens report being hit, slapped, stalked, sexually assaulted or emotionally abused by a dating partner. Approximately one in five women and nearly one in seven men who ever experienced rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner, first experienced this violence between 11 and 17 years of age. (CDC, 2010)

During the past few years, we have worked with more than 400 middle and high schools in educating about and preventing against gender and relationship violence. We commend these schools for understanding the importance of talking to their students about healthy — and unhealthy — relationships. We also have trained more than 100 coaches on the nationally recognized program Coaching Boys Into Men. The program helps young men recognize the important role they play in building healthy relationships. Most of these coaches are from Hays and elsewhere in northwest Kansas. Currently, we are piloting the new program Athletes as Leaders with the Hays High School girls' basketball teams. Partnering with Options Domestic and Sexual Violence Services, we meet with the young women one time per week to discuss signs and causes of healthy and unhealthy relationships.

Teens who suffer dating violence are at risk for additional difficulties such as depression, substance abuse and suicide. Victims also are at greater risk of experiencing the same patterns of violence later in life. We as a community have a responsibility to make dating and domestic violence an intolerable act — anytime, anywhere. We are thrilled Hays and surrounding communities recognize this is a social issue that can be eradicated, and are willing to do the work involved in that process. We are particularly thankful to the hundreds of people who help us fund our work.

Throughout February and beyond, please join us in our efforts to educate and raise awareness about the hidden social disease of gender and relationship violence — dating and domestic violence, sexual violence and stalking.

Curt and Christie Brungardt are co-founders of Jana’s Campaign Inc.