Trying to put a stop to teen dating violence, Brooklyn nonprofit the Healing Center held its eighth annual Teen Dating Violence Awareness Walk A-Thon. The event was held during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, on April 13 and saw attendees walk from Cadman Plaza over the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall.
Stephanie Rodriguez, youth coordinator of the Healing Center and organizer of the walk, considered the event another success.
“It went really well. Even though we did have a bit of rain in the morning, there were still quite a few youths that came out,” she said. “We’re still counting up the final tally of attendees but it seems to be more than last year. We definitely had more co-sponsors bringing their team out which is always amazing.”
Walkers ranged from children as young as three to adults as old as 70. The majority of the participants were 10 to 21 years old.
“April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month,” she said. “Looking at how that intertwines with teen dating violence is really talking about the statistics. One in three teens will be affected by teen dating violence, which is higher than the national average in general for domestic violence.” Most affected, said Rodriguez, are teens 15-24.
Despite the magnitude of the issue, however, “This is the only walk in America that brings awareness to teen dating violence, which we were surprised to hear,” Rodriguez said. “Our dream is one day to have chapters all over America. This isn’t just an issue that is happening in New York City. We want to keep it growing.”
It’s not just females who are impacted, she added.
“When I do workshops in high school, it’s not necessarily the females that ask the most questions,” Rodriguez said. “A lot of times it’s males because they don’t have that space to be able to speak about the difference between consent and coercion and what a healthy relationship looks like.”
Besides bringing awareness to the issue, the event also helped participants connect with resources for dealing with teen dating violence, she added.
Assemblymember Felix Ortiz was among those who participated in the walk.
“I come here year after year because I do believe that domestic violence, teen violence have no place in our schools, community or neighborhood, anywhere,” he said during the event.
Ortiz’s presence is significant, Rodriguez noted. “At the end of the day, it’s elected officials who fund us, so it’s important for them to see this is an important issue to our youth,” she said. “They’re coming together, standing tall, and these are the people who will eventually be voting, so having their voices heard and keeping elected officials accountable to the promises that they make to the youth is important.”
Rodriguez added that she looks forward to a time when, “It’s not me but teenagers that are doing all the logistical stuff,” she said. “As much as I get a thrill putting this walk together and seeing youth come together, my vision is to get it to a point where it’s the youth putting it together and they don’t need the adults’ help anymore.”