February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Ironically, it also is the month we celebrate Valentine’s Day with our significant others. Sadly, some of those relationships are unhealthy, and possibly even dangerous.

Many adults are unaware teens experience dating violence, which could be emotional, verbal, physical or stalking. 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 the abuse between the ages of 11 and 17. (CDC, 2010)

During the past few years, Jana’s Campaign has worked with more than 300 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. Many of the coaches are from Hays and elsewhere in northwest Kansas. Recently, Jana’s Campaign has been selected as one of four organizations from across the U.S. who will pilot a comparable program for female athletes.

Teens who suffer dating violence are at risk for additional negative consequences such as depression, substance abuse and suicide. Victims are also 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 act that is not tolerated — 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. The support we have received from our friends and donors throughout the local areas has allowed us to increase the scale and scope of the work we do. We are particularly thankful to the Heartland Community Foundation for recognizing the importance of this work with grant funding for their service counties of Trego, Rooks and Ellis.

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

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