Walpole Community Works to Create Awareness on Dating Violence Charlotte Schoenthaler

According to the Center for Disease Control, one out of four males will experience an abusive relationship, whereas the statistic for females is one out of three. In the United States, 80,000 people are murdered every year by their significant other. With an enrollment of about 1,180 students, 196 female students and 147 male students at Walpole High School are at risk of experiencing a form of dating violence in their lives. However, Walpole High School is working on creating awareness to minimize the potential of abuse in relationships.

"Some kids are totally oblivious to domestic violence. Other kids have a front row [seat.] They're either watching domestic violence occur in their home, or they might be in a dating relationship that is not very healthy," said Marie Doherty, Walpole High School's adjustment counselor.

Over the last few months, Doherty and Chief John Carmichael have given the Walpole Community a chance to speak out on dating violence in a safe environment through town forums and a teenage training program within Walpole High School called Youth Speaks. On Feb. 28, Dr. Malcolm Astley, the Wayland father of a teen murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2011, encouraged the community to engage in conversations early on about preventing unhealthy relationships. In addition, Jen Bolton, the Senior Manager of Education and Prevention at Domestic Violence Ended (DOVE), trained sophomores, juniors, and seniors as peer educators during an in-school field trip on Feb. 15. In March, these peer educators visited freshman health classrooms to further raise awareness about this topic.

"Catching people as young as possible to start talking about what [negative relationships] look like is really important, and also providing a safe space for people to ask questions and reflect on their own experiences is really important," said Alexandra Libstag, a social worker intern.

During the training session on Feb. 15, Bolton trained 17 sophomores, 10 juniors, and 4 seniors to become qualified leaders through DOVE Youth Speaks. The program ran for five hours, and consisted of interactive, as well as formative activities that allowed peer leaders in training to have respectful conversations with each other in regards to their overall knowledge of dating violence.

“[High school] is the time that relationships really start, so if you have a good understanding about it today, then it can spawn throughout your adult life,” said sophomore Christopher Reilly.

As an educator, Bolton provides counseling for victims that reach out to DOVE, while simultaneously traveling to schools in the Norfolk county to train peer leaders through Youth Speaks.

“By expanding the definition of abuse to include emotional abuse and technological abuse, more people are coming out to share that these are behaviors that are happening in their relationship,” said Bolton.

The Youth Speaks activities heavily focus around consent: the purpose, the significance, and the strategies to identify consent. In Massachusetts, the age of consent is 16, and the person must be sober. Bolton’s lessons on consent highlight both the verbal and emotional ways to express consent.

“There’s a saying, ‘Checking in with a girl before you kiss her ruins the moment,’ but not checking in with a girl before kissing her means that you don’t know if she is consenting,” said junior Abigail Murray.

With these skills under their belt, 13 students will teach alongside Walpole High’s health teachers the seriousness of dating violence on March 12 and 13. They will adapt their skills from Youth Speaks into freshman health classes. The rest of Youth Speaks will speak to freshman health classes in the fall.

“We want to talk to students young,” said Bolton. “If we are talking to people about these behaviors after they have already started, it’s not really prevention. If we’re doing real prevention, it would be helping people address these behaviors before they already happen."

In order to have a better understanding of how serious it is for Walpole High School to address dating violence, the Walpole Police Department arranged for Dr. Astley to share his daughter’s story.

Lauren Dunne Astley, daughter of Dr. Astley, was tragically murdered by her high school boyfriend on July 3, 2011. After officially terminating their on-again, off-again relationship, Lauren was beaten, strangled and slashed to death in her partner’s home. Aside from sharing the events of what his daughter endured in his presentations, Dr. Astley also educated middle schools, high schools, and communities in Massachusetts about how to recognize an abusive partner.

“There is hope that organization treats harm,” said Dr. Astley. “Action is within our reach to identify and reverse our own cultural rearing of boys and men to take a violent and dominating path toward meeting their needs, paths that, in fact, often have the exact opposite effect of their intentions.”

Dr. Astley described his personal experience with dating violence. Simultaneously, he advocated for nine practical approaches to help prevent violence within interpersonal and personal relationships (See bottom).

“We need to know the warning signs of abuse, to create safe paths for information to move to identified experts, and to define clear steps for delivering help,” said Dr. Astley. “By knowing and talking about these signs as a community, [we] will all stand to be more caring, fairer, and safer together.”

During his presentation, Dr. Malcolm Astley highlights the above principles as ways society can help prevent dating violence.

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