Fiona Ma for State Assembly
News

Money to stem teen dating violence dwindles

Twenty percent of teens have been pushed, slapped or hit by someone with whom they're in a serious relationship.

That simple statistic underlines an important fact: Violence too often accompanies teenage romance. Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, held a hearing Wednesday in Sacramento to bring awareness to the issue at a time when funding for violence-prevention programs is dwindling because of budget cuts.

"State and federal funding for youth violence prevention has dried up. However, we must not turn a blind eye to unhealthy adolescent behavior," Ma said. "Now more than ever, our state needs new innovative programs and role models to promote healthy relationships that don't rely on state funding."

Ma, chairwoman of the Assembly Select Committee on Domestic Violence, invited experts on teen relationships to address concerns about the issue in connection with Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Awareness Month.

On Wednesday, she urged educators and counselors to incorporate messages regarding appropriate behavior into their daily lessons, and she encouraged the use of social media such as Twitter and Facebook to help spread the word.

"Love is respect," the online home of the National Dating Abuse Helpline, reports that 1 in 3 girls who have been in a serious relationship say they have been concerned about being physically hurt by their partner. Stephanie Pappas with the State Department of Education said 72 percent of eighth-grade students say they have been in a dating relationship.

Be it emotional or physical abuse, statistics show teen dating violence is a national problem. Local officials say it's prevalent here as well, but the county has no system for tracking the number of teens affected by relationship abuse.

Neither the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office nor Community Overcoming Relationship Abuse can put a number on it.

Headquartered in Burlingame, CORA is the county's only organization devoted to helping people affected by domestic violence and relationship abuse. A year ago, it had a thriving teen-outreach program, featuring a live forum and chat room that offered a safe venue for young people to talk anonymously about dating violence.

Neither of those online tools still exists because of state budget cuts last fiscal year that reduced funding for teen outreach by $400,000, said Cori Manthorne, director of programs. Youth-based efforts were cut by about 80 percent, forcing CORA to eliminate teen volunteer and hot-line training, reduce school outreach and lay off five employees, including a marriage and family therapist designated for teens.

"The funding lately has really gone toward emergency services like crisis intervention and emergency housing," Manthorne said. "Anything deemed as prevention-focused has had a hard time recently."

Although CORA has managed to make up some of the costs to continue doing healthy-relationship workshops in schools, the money isn't secure enough to reinstate the original program, which used funding from the state Emergency Management Agency that is no longer available.

Teens are welcome to use all the adult offerings available at CORA, but the lack of targeted outreach leaves a huge service gap for what's considered a vulnerable population.

The factors that affect teen relationships are typically different adults', according to Manthorne, who listed school, peer activity, parental stress and the Internet as being among those peculiar to teens.

James Wade, the San Mateo County deputy district attorney in charge of the juvenile branch, said jealousy is the No. 1 cause he sees behind teen dating violence cases.

"We do see a lot of situations of teen batteries against boyfriends or girlfriends," Wade said. "It's magnified because they're still in school."

The number of those cases is unknown, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Karen Guidotti, who said the district attorney's case management system doesn't track ages of victims.

San Mateo County teens struggling with an abusive relationship can call CORA'S 24-hour hot line at 800-300-1080 or the National Dating Abuse Helpline at 866-331-9474. Their websites are www.corasupport.org and www.loveisrespect.org.