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Teen Dating Abuse Is Senior Project Topic
"A sophomore girl starts getting involved in a new relationship with a junior boy. Within a few weeks of their new relationship this boy starts confessing his love for her, which of course she finds very flattering. A month goes by and they're spending every day together, but she's hardly had any time for friends. Then one day instead of hanging out with him, she goes off with her friends. Subsequently, he doesn't like this very much which leads him to yell at her and call her names. Eventually the littlest of things she does wrong gets him furious and he starts hitting her."

This is an imaginary scenario with which Riverbank High senior Erica Orellana starts the paper on "Abuse in Teen Relationships" she has written as her Senior Project for English teacher Nancy Garcia.

But Orellana says she experienced teen dating abuse herself as a sophomore and wants to help other students before they get into an abusive relationship.

"It was not physical but emotional and verbal," she said of her situation. "The guy was controlling and manipulative. I want to turn what was a bad experience for me into something positive that can help other girls."

Her parents, she said, never quarrel or fight in front of her and her mother especially helped her recognize the abusive situation and get out of it.

"I'm proud of myself. Most girls would have stayed. But I found a new, healthy relationship. I have a new boyfriend and am very happy with him."

This week the schools' bulletin lists some lunchtime activities that Orellana is presenting as a practical part of her project. They were due to feature a boy-girl skit displaying verbal abuse on Monday, a project making paper heart chains to signify emotional abuse on Tuesday and "a surprise activity" to illustrate physical abuse today, Wednesday. On Thursday, Orellana will comment on sexual abuse with "a self-reflective activity." She plans to have mirrors in which students can see themselves and reflect on their own attitudes towards dating.

On Friday, she is planning to have an adult guest speaker, hopefully from the Women's Haven in Modesto or failing that from the Golden Valley Health Clinic located on campus. She also hopes to sell T-shirts with the logo "Abuse Shatters the Heart" and give the proceeds to the Women's Haven.

"Most people think that abuse is just physical," Orellana wrote on her project cover letter to teacher Garcia. "But before my senior years ends I plan on educating middle school and high school students on the dangers of mental and physical abuse and the damage that can leave on a person. I would not want anyone to go through what I had to go through. This is the reason for my senior project. I also want students to be aware of the danger signs before it's too late."

Emotional abuse can break someone down on the inside and make them insecure, according to Liz Claiborne, one of the authorities she consulted. When girls do not value themselves due to emotional abuse, it's more likely they will put up with physical abuse. Emotional abuse is often considered "not a big deal" but it is and it's very common, officials added. For sexual abuse or sexual assault, a boy and girl don't even have to be involved in a relationship. Physical abuse covers someone being hit, slapped or shoved by their partner. People should know that abuse is a pattern of behavior used to exert power and control over a dating partner. Teens, if warned ahead, should be able to identify some of these types of abuse before they start.

Warning signs include calling the partner names, yelling and screaming at them, intentionally embarrassing them in public, preventing the partner from socializing with friends or family, telling them what to wear, using the Internet or cell phones to control them, blaming a partner's actions for their own abusive or unhealthy behavior, threatening to commit suicide to prevent a breakup, threatening to harm a partner, making them feel guilty or immature when they won't consent to sexual activity and spreading rumors about them.

Boys also are subject to teen dating abuse, said officials, and teen partner violence should be seen as similar to adult domestic violence. Some statistics indicate 36 to 50 percent of adult American women will be abused in their lifetime and 62 percent hit, shoved or slapped while one in three girls still in school will be involved in an abusive relationship.

Orellana said she hopes to inform and empower teens to make good decisions for themselves.