Group hopes game can build trust, prevent abusive dating

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Friday, February 12, 2010
— The 1-foot-long blocks of wood stood stacked on a table in the center of the classroom like an oversized Jenga game.

The sturdy and stable tower of blocks represented a healthy relationship.

Sophomores from the Refuse 2 Bruise group quizzed eighth-graders from J.C. McKenna Middle School on dating abuse and had the younger students remove one block for every question.

Split into teams, the students worked together to point out which block to remove next. The questions covered such things as ways that an abuser pressures his or her significant other into doing or not doing something.

One by one, students carefully removed blocks from the tower until it wobbled with each touch. Soon, layers of the tower were balancing on only one block.

“Once abuse enters the picture, this is what a relationship looks like,” said Julie Hermanson, the group’s leader. “It’s got holes. It’s got gaps. There’s hurt feelings. There’s mistrust. Eventually, what’s going to happen, once that abuse continues, that relationship is going to collapse.”

Hermanson and the 12 high school students of Refuse 2 Bruise educated eighth-graders all day Thursday on the early warning signs of abuse. They stressed that teens need to speak up and stop abuse when they see it and seek help if needed.

“A lot of times in middle school, you get so attached to another person and you feel like they’re your whole life, and then when you break up, your life is crushed,” group member Allison McNett said.

The older students explained how controlling behavior, jealousy and possessiveness are signs of an unhealthy relationship.

“We don’t want you guys to do that. We want you to realize that healthy relationships are the way to go.”

AWARE in Evansville, a program of Community Action, formed the Refuse 2 Bruise group about a year ago. The group painted school windows and put up posters for February, which is teen dating violence awareness month. Last spring’s campaign included a “Know the Signs” billboard that is still up on Highway 14 between Janesville and Evansville.

The group has been selected to present at a statewide teen dating violence summit in May in Wisconsin Dells.

One in three teens is in an abusive dating relationship, Hermanson told the middle-schoolers, and 80 percent of victims stay in the relationships after the first acts of violence.

Learning the warning signs can help a teen get out of a relationship before it turns physical, they said.

Early signs include isolation, jealousy, controlling behavior, insults, possessiveness, double standards, harmful threats, playing rough and forced intimacy, also known as sexual assault or rape.

Scenes on TV and other media often show unhealthy relationships, which can make it seem like that’s the norm.

It’s not, McNett said.

“Because that’s not what you guys deserve,” she said. “You deserve better.”

The group also mentioned sexting, or sending inappropriate images on a cell phone.

“We want you guys to not do that because what happens is guys, or girls even, will basically sabotage you and say if you break up with me, I’ll send those pictures that you sent to me to everyone,” McNett said.

The group’s advice was to not send anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see.

“Once it’s out, it’s out there forever,” McNett said.

Last updated: 12:56 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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