Ohio takes action to put a halt to teen dating violence

You may not hear it talked about much, but teen dating violence is a serious problem that affects about one in three high school students – and in some cases, the problem leads to death. Just ask Jim and Elsa Croucher, who know first-hand the terror of losing a daughter to dating violence.

On Dec. 28, 2009, Gov. Ted Strickland signed Ohio House Bill 19, also known as “The Tina Croucher Act.” Under this law, school districts in Ohio must adopt policies and health education curriculum to combat and prevent teen dating violence.

The law was named after the daughter of Jim and Elsa Croucher of Monroe, Ohio. On Dec. 22, 1992, 18-year-old Tina Croucher was shot and killed by her abusive ex-boyfriend. “Early on, we realized that something was different about this young man, but we couldn’t put our finger on it,” said Tina’s mother, Elsa Croucher. “One time, she had a big bruise on her face. When we inquired, she said it was caused from a football hitting her, and we believed her.”

Croucher said Tina and her ex-boyfriend had dated off and on for about a year and a half. “At Tina’s funeral visitations, we had several parents and grandparents telling us that their child or grandchild had been in a similar situation,” Croucher said.

A new beginning

Four years after their daughter was murdered, the Crouchers decided to use the circumstance they were in to make a difference. “My husband, Jim, and I finally realized that we needed to take control of our situation and turn our negative into a positive,” said Croucher. “We met with a group of leaders in the Middletown area who brainstormed, and we all came up with Citizens Against Domestic Violence.”

CADV is a non-profit organization designed to educate teens about the perils of domestic violence. The Crouchers and other CADV representatives speak to students at schools all across Ohio about teen dating violence and how to prevent it.

But now that The Tina Croucher Act has passed, the Crouchers will no longer have to fight the battle against teen dating violence on their own. “Now every teenager in the state of Ohio will be taught how to have a relationship and also the perils of an abusive relationship,” said Croucher.

Taking action

Along with all the other school districts in Ohio, the Kettering City School District will be adopting policies to address and prevent dating violence. “Overall, it’s a good direction to go with our curriculum,” said Fairmont High School Principal Dan Von Handorf. “There are certain areas kids need to be educated in as they go through their teen years.”

Students seem to think that the new requirement is a good idea as well. “I don’t think it’s going to hurt,” said senior Holly Carey. “It will make teens more aware that they deserve to be treated with respect.”

Senior Trevor Morris had a similar view, but doesn’t believe this type of education is for everyone. “It’s not a bad idea. I don’t think it should be mandatory, but if it’s not, people won’t take classes on it.”

Since the law was only recently passed, school districts are just beginning to figure out how to meet its requirements. “We’re still in initial planning,” said Von Handorf. “We will be working with health teachers and Health Department Chair Tim Cogan to see how the bill’s requirements can be meshed with current curriculum.” Currently, only freshmen at Fairmont are required to take a health class. Because of this, the Academic Council will be looking for other opportunities for those in grades 10 through 12 to meet the dating violence education requirement.

The law also requires that school faculty be trained on teen dating violence prevention. “Counselors are already trained in this area,” said Von Handorf. “The only plan we have right now is to train health teachers, so they can educate students on the subject.”

 A tough issue

Although some students think the new law is a good thing, they agree that not all students will respond in the same way. “It could go both ways,” said Morris. “Some will embrace it; others will think it’s a terrible idea.”

Carey has a similar, yet somewhat more optimistic view. “I think they’ll appreciate it; if not now, then later.”

Von Handorf believes there are reasons some students may not respond in a positive way when the subject is addressed. “Some students may struggle if they have dealt with relationship abuse personally,” he said. “But I think our kids are mature and responsible enough to realize it’s a serious issue.”

No matter what a teen’s opinion is on the issue of dating violence being addressed in school, Croucher believes it is crucial to a student’s education. “The young people need to be taught the issues of dating abuse since some of them have no clue what dating abuse entails,” she said.

The ugly truth

Teen dating violence is not solely limited to females as many may assume. Both boys and girls of varying race and socioeconomic backgrounds fall victim to teen dating abuse. According to the Teen Victim Project conducted by the National Center for Victims of Crime, girls are more likely to yell, threaten to hurt themselves, pinch, slap, scratch or kick, but boys injure girls more severely and frequently. The rate of teens experiencing dating violence varies from occasionally to daily.

The statistics are ugly:

• About one in three high school students have been or will be involved in an abusive relationship. (U.S. Bureau of Justice Special Report on Intimate Partner Violence, May 2000)

• 57 percent of teens said they knew someone who had been physically, sexually or verbally abusive in dating relationships. (Teen Research Unlimited, 2005)

• In a Bureau of Justice Statistics Press Release, a reported 22 percent of all homicides against females ages 16-19 were committed by intimate partners between 1993 and 1999.

• 33 percent of teens have actually witnessed an event of dating violence taking place. (Empower Program, sponsored by Liz Claiborne Inc. and conducted by Knowledge Networks, Social Control, Verbal Abuse and Violence Among Teenagers, 2000)

Morris is among those who have witnessed relationship violence, both verbal and physical. “It’s normally outside of school and there are not a lot of people around,” he said. He also believes that verbal abuse is most common. “You don’t see a lot of physical abuse, but you always hear couples yelling at each other.”

Carey agrees that verbal abuse is more common than physical. “If there is physical abuse, it’s likely there is verbal and emotional abuse going on, too.”

Both Carey and Morris believe relationship abuse is not common at Fairmont, but they still believe it’s happening. “I don’t ever see it,” said Carey. “But it’s obviously something that does go on; it kind of goes under the radar.”

In fact, only 33 percent of teens who have been in abusive relationships have ever told anyone about the abuse being inflicted on them, according to the TRU study. “If a teen knows someone who is being abused, it is their obligation to go to an adult who can help,” said Croucher. “All counselors, pastors, etc., have a Teen Hotline or web site.”

On the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center website, 81 percent of parents surveyed believe that teen dating violence is not an issue or admit they don’t know if it is. “Teen dating violence has been going on for a while,” said Carey. “People are just finally speaking out against it and taking action to prevent it.”

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, violent relationships experienced during adolescence can lead victims to abusive relationships in their adult years. These victims are also at a higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior and suicide.

Hope for the future

Von Handorf hopes that The Tina Croucher Act will raise students’ level of awareness. “I know our teachers at Fairmont will do a good job communicating this serious issue that some students will confront in life,” he said. “By adding this to the curriculum, it gives students tools to use if they are ever in a dangerous situation. I hope it helps our kids make good choices.”

Croucher and her husband Jim are elated that their dream of 14 years has finally come to pass, and every student in Ohio will now be educated on teen dating violence. The biggest piece of advice Croucher can give on dating and relationships is this: “Don’t get in too deep too fast. That is one of the first signs of an abuser. Watch for the control issues.”