February: Teen Relationship Violence

By Nirvana Habash

CCS sits down with Jessie Towne-Cardenas, Prevention & Education Director at Center for Community Solutions.

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. We work hard to see that teens in San Diego have the tools to build healthy relationships, know their rights under the law, and local and national resources. Here are answers to some of the most important questions when working to spread awareness about violence in the context of teen relationships.

How does CCS reach out to young people?

In the course of a year, our P&E Department reaches 2,600 young people throughout San Diego County with an average of three to five education sessions. Our trainings are normally presented to students in K-12th grade, or ages 5-18. We provide education primarily in schools, but also other youth-serving organizations like SDYS Storefront, IRC- Girl’s Group, Hillcrest Youth Center, Girl Scouts, etc. Our trainings are based on a public health model of prevention with two goals: 1) Reducing risk factors for victimization and perpetration and 2) Increasing protective and resiliency factors.

What kind of outreach does CCS’ Prevention and Education Department do in regards to teen relationship violence?

One of our prevention programs at CCS is Camp Barrett, a residential juvenile detention facility for young men between the ages of 16-20. Many of these individuals are at Camp Barrett because of criminal offences for drugs, assault, and involvement with gangs.  CCS has been sending Prevention Educators to Camp Barrett for six years, providing services to 400+ young men every year over the course of three to nine weeks. The topics each week include: healthy relationships, relationship violence prevention, rape prevention, equality and respect, consent and boundaries, and healthy communication. 

CCS provides hands-on training on the topics above to over 2,000 young people all over San Diego County. Our Prevention Educators are invited to present year after year to over 20 schools and communities groups. Some have been providing education from CCS for a decade!

When you’re working with youth of varying ages, how do you tailor your presentation so that it’s appropriate?

Our department is incredibly equipped to work with all age groups. Generally, themes based on age group are as follows:

Early Elementary

  • Respect and Boundaries
  • Good Touch Versus Bad Touch
  • Personal Space
  • Understanding Others
Late Elementary
  • Respect and Boundaries
  • Friendship/Being a Good Friend
  • How to Help if Someone is Hurt
  • Bystander Intervention
Middle School
  • Bystander Intervention
  • Power and Control
  • Healthy Versus Unhealthy Relationships
  • How to Help
High School
  • Bystander Intervention
  • Power and Control
  • Healthy Versus Unhealthy Relationships
  • How to Help
  • Negotiating Boundaries and Consent
  • Sexual Assault Prevention

How is teen relationship violence different from relationship violence between adults?

There aren’t as many resources for teens as there are for adults who are in violent relationships. And teens who are victims are exposed to so many factors that are not necessarily present when dealing with adults. For instance, relationships between teens are often a symbol of status. Adding the world of social media to the equation, and the recent rise in bullying, it can be incredibly difficult for a teen to open up about a violent partner. Especially if there is no support system in place in the home or at school.

Teens can apply for restraining orders against a violent partner, just like adults. A big difference is that teens probably go to school, have class, and share mutual activities with their abuser. This makes it more difficult to feel safe.

Minors in California have many rights afforded by the state, but how many of them are aware of that? We try to educate young people on these rights and protections, not just the warning signs and prevention tools.

What can adults do?

Parents and adults may not always know that their teens are dating, or they might not approve of dating at all. Often, parents and other adults minimize teen relationships, not realizing the rate of teen relationship violence in San Diego County is higher than the national average. In 2011, the Center for Disease Control found that nationally, 9.5% of high school students had experienced dating violence – defined as hitting, slapping, or physically hurt on purpose by a boyfriend or girlfriend. In the same study, San Diego youth reported that 11.2% teenage girls and 11.9% teenage boys admitted to being a victim of dating violence.

It is important that adults start talking about healthy relationships early on and make it part of normal, everyday conversation. Even more important, remember that children mimic the behavior they learn from the adults closest to them. If you are a caregiver, it’s important to model respectful communication and healthy relationships. The media depicts most relationships as being highly dramatic with little equality or mutual respect. Popular shows geared toward teens like Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, 90210, Teen Mom, all emphasize the importance of sexual relationships and often include themes such as cheating, controlling behavior, isolation, and dishonesty. If young people are getting this message on television and lack adults who model healthy relationship skills, then they have little chance of learning these important skills on their own. Adults can talk about the relationships young people see in the media and among their peers, be a good example of healthy, respectful relationships, and see out tools on healthy relationships and communication for the young people you care about.


If you or a loved one are experiencing abuse, please contact our 24-hour hotline 1-888-DVLINKS.




Jessie Towne-Cardenas has been at Center for Community Solutions for twelve years and has worked in multiple areas of the agency including family support services, after school programming, and case management with adolescent girls in the juvenile justice system.  In her current position as Director of Prevention and Education Services, Jessie oversees a variety of  prevention programs including  parent and teacher education, outreach and education services for relationship violence and sexual assault prevention, 60-hour crisis intervention training for staff and volunteers, and education to increase the efficacy of domestic violence programs for the Iraqi community. 

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