State #looks to #social media to #combat #teen dating #violence

EAST GREENBUSH, N.Y. >> With February being recognized as Teen Dating Abuse Awareness Month, officials from the state Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence came to Columbia High School on Monday morning to unveil a social media advertising campaign that aims to educate teens that hurtful and cruel words and controlling language and behavior are red flags in dating relationships.

State officials say the Teen Dating Abuse is #NotJustPhysical campaign will run throughout February on Snapchat and Instagram, targeting those ages 13-17 and connecting them with resources, information and help if they are worried about themselves or a friend.

“It is an honor to have students from Columbia High School participate in this important initiative,” said new high school principal Michael Harkin. “As educators, we strive every day to foster a safe and supportive school environment. It is our hope that this campaign will focus more attention to the problem while providing support to teenagers everywhere.”

Each of four social media ads features a teen — appearing distressed, overwhelmed or stunned — being bombarded by abusive and controlling statements: “If I can’t have you, no one can,” “You’re pathetic,” “I know where you are,” and “You’re lucky I love you.” The ads illustrate that teen dating abuse can take many forms, but often does not include physical violence. Hurtful, cruel words — either spoken or sent electronically — and controlling behavior can leave emotional scars and verbal abuse can escalate into physical harm.

“Young people who are just beginning to navigate the dating world can be faced with great challenges as they grapple with the distinctions between love and jealousy, concern and control,” said Gwen Wright, executive director of the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. “Our goal is that these messages will help them understand that controlling, possessive behaviors are a form of dating abuse, and that they don’t have to take it. Information and help are available.”

Wright was joined by Harkin, students who volunteered to appear in the campaign and members of the school’s Drama Club and Students Against Destructive Decision-Making. Gov. Andrew Cuomo also issued a proclamation marking February as Teen Dating Abuse Awareness Month — the month is marked nationally, as well.

Teens from Columbia, Niskayuna and Shenendehowa high schools, as well as Gardner-Dickinson School in Wynantskill, volunteered to be photographed for the campaign, which features three girls and a boy. Dating abuse can affect teens in both heterosexual and same-sex relationships, but research shows teen girls are most often targeted.

“I think this campaign is going to make us [realize] that verbal [and physical] abuse in teen dating is a real thing,” said Columbia High School 10th grader Brandon Smith, who is featured in the ads. “It happens to people, maybe even people that you talk with everyday. Anyone can be a victim and you don’t know.

“This campaign is going to make sure that everyone knows that it’s a possibility and that you need to be aware of it, because it can happen to anyone.”

The Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence also will launch a social media toolkit at on Thursday, featuring graphics customized for sharing on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and encouraging the use of the #NotJustPhysical hashtag.

Wright also encouraged students to use the toolkit to start a conversation with their peers and join the national Wear Orange 4 Love awareness campaign on Tuesday, Feb. 13. Teens who participate are encouraged to promote their engagement through social media with the hashtags #orange4love and #NotJustPhysical.

“Dating abuse and domestic violence are never the fault of the victim, and help and information is available 24/7,” said Wright. “There is an 800 number that you or anyone can call anytime…. so if you or someone you know is in trouble, please make that call.”

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