October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The numbers associated with domestic violence are shocking.

* One in three women will be hurt physically or sexually by an intimate partner in her lifetime.

* One in five adolescent girls says she has been physically or sexually hurt by someone she was dating.

* One in 10 high school students, both boys and girls, report being physically hurt on purpose by a boyfriend or girlfriend.

Maikuru Study Group

Young people may not always see that a relationship isn’t good for them as it is happening. Across our community, people are reaching out to support and educate young people about what makes a relationship healthy. Helping young men and women see what a healthy relationship is and the warning signs of abuse can help prevent abusive relationships from happening to them or their friends.

“Teen dating violence” is defined as physical and sexual violence, as well as psychological aggression, in teen dating relationships. Sexual violence includes sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape. There are few prevention programs that help teens with these issues. One way to know whether a relationship is unhealthy is the level of control that one partner has over the other. People can “control” others by looking at their cell phone and e-mail, telling them what to wear or with whom they can hang out, making them feel bad in front of others and much more. People who are controlling their partners will keep them away from friends and family. Abusive and controlling people will want to spend a lot of time with “only the two of us” or say they’ll leave or hurt people if things don’t go the way they want.

Parents don’t always see these controlling behaviors because they are often hidden. Teens may not realize at first that controlling behaviors are unhealthy.

Warning signs that parents, friends and teens can be looking for in someone who may be in an abusive relationship, include:

* no longer hanging out with friends

* not paying attention when speaking to them

* constantly checking cell phone, getting upset when asked to turn phone off

* being less talkative than usual

* making excuses for their boyfriend/girlfriend

* showering right after getting home

* having scratches or bruises they can’t explain

These warning signs may also be related to other things, such as depression or drug use. Parents, adult caregivers and friends who see these signs in someone they love should think about whether that person is in an unhealthy relationship.

People who use sexual coercion threaten someone into having sex. They may say things like, “You’d do this if you loved me” or “If you don’t have sex with me, I’ll leave you.” Because they are controlled and abused, victims of sexual violence may think they are to blame for what has happened. Sometimes, girls in abusive relationships describe how their partners have tried to get them pregnant on purpose. Teens don’t often tell their parents about such sexual abuse because they may feel too ashamed, guilty and afraid. Parents should remain aware of the possibility of sexual abuse. Parents are reminded to tell their children that they are never to blame if someone tries to make them do things sexually that they don’t want to do.

Advice for parents to consider:

n Start talking about what a healthy, respectful relationship is early with your child.

n Share the warning signs of teen dating abuse with your child—for example: “If you know friends who are experiencing something like this, let’s talk about it. There are ways for you to be a good friend and help them stay safe.”

n Tell your child that he or she is not to blame for an unhealthy relationship.

n Make time for your children to know they can talk to you and you’ll listen.

n Look at the resources available on teen dating abuse for youths and adults (see list of organizations on this page).

Talking to young people about sexuality

Young people represent 14 percent of the U.S. population. They make up half of all new sexually transmitted infections (STI) and 80 percent of unplanned pregnancies. An STI is an infection that is usually passed from person to person through sexual contact. Higher rates of STIs and pregnancy occur in ethnic minority youths compared to their White peers.

Parents are the earliest influence on young people’s sexual decisions. When parents talk about sex, young people are more likely to start having sex at a later age and use condoms and birth control when they do become sexually active.

Understanding not just what parents discuss but how information about sexuality is communicated is important. Young people are less likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors if parents begin talking to their children at an early age about a wide range of topics. Parents also need to keep talking about sex as their children get older. Conversations about sex need to be viewed as open and comfortable. When parents control the conversation and seem critical, young people tend to have less sexual health information and report being less honest. Research shows that the more comfortable the conversation, the more likely young people are to change their behaviors.

A number of ways to improve communication between parents and youths about sexuality have been developed. All but one of these programs focuses on improving parents’ knowledge about what to discuss and how often to have conversations about sexuality. One program teaches parents specific ways to communicate. This may be the best way to influence young peoples’ sexual behavior. Parents need more chances to develop communication skills about sexuality.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are studying how mothers talk to their children, ages 12 to 14, about sexual health. To do this, they are recording mothers as they talk with their children. Then they are looking at these conversations to find the different ways mothers communicate sexual health information. They also are examining which communication styles seem to be the most effective and whether maternal communication style varies by race. If you are interested in participating in this study, please contact the Akers research group at 412-641-4984.

Maikuru Study provides social support to young women

Jeanette South-Paul, MD, UPMC Andrew W. Mathieson Professor and chair of Pitt’s Department of Family Medicine, works at the Matilda Theiss Health Center. She sees the struggles local teen mothers face almost every day. The highest rates of teen pregnancy occur among poor and minority youths. Teen pregnancy also goes along with lower grades, higher drop-out rates, fewer chances to get well-paying jobs and being poor for a long time. Teens who become pregnant are more likely to suffer from depression than adult mothers. African American teen moms are twice as likely to have depression as White teen moms.

More than four years ago, Dr. South-Paul thought that connecting teens with adults could have a positive impact on teens. Dr. South-Paul created the Maikuru study to provide social support and information about healthy relationships for women ages 19 and younger. (The word “Maikuru” means “great aunt” or “wise woman of the village” in the Shona language of Southern Africa.) Over the course of six weekly meetings, adult mentors, or “Maikurus,” help educate teen moms on important issues. The program also provides life skills, like how to get a job and manage money. During the group sessions, the mentors and teens talk about family planning, the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships, how to resolve conflicts, budgeting and finances, self image and spirituality. Here’s what one teen and a Maikuru had to say about participating:

“The best part of being in the Maikuru project is that Maikurus understand and are helpful. They also make you feel comfortable, and what we talk about in the group stays private. They are there to listen and to help, and they did that for me. I’m thankful… I’m the proudest teen mom, and I feel I can accomplish anything because of them.”—Chantelle, a young mother

If you are interested in possibly participating, here’s what you need to know: Mentors in the program must be at least 15 years older than their teen mom partner and can participate by themselves or as a couple with a spouse. They need to pass Act 33/34 (criminal history and child abuse) clearances that the program will help them get. Before becoming mentors, they will receive training and coaching.

If you are a young mother and have only one child, you should know that during your participation you will fill out surveys and may receive up to $250 in compensation. Bus tickets, child care and meals will be provided. After the group sessions, teens will be required to attend follow-up sessions every three months over a two-year period. To contact the Maikuru Project, call 412-383-1000, text 412-491-6742 or e-mail ncubecn@upmc.edu.

Coaches as Allies program helps turn boys into men

In 2000, Futures Without Violence (a national nonprofit organization focused on ending violence in families) created a violence prevention program called Coaching Boys into Men (CBIM). The program trains coaches to talk to their athletes about the importance of nonviolent behaviors toward women and girls. The program comes with tips for talking to male student athletes about being leaders. It also guides coaches on how to encourage healthy relationships and stop dating violence and harassment.

Starting in 2009, CBIM was the focus of a three-year study run by Elizabeth Miller, MD, PhD, chief of Adolescent Medicine at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Sixteen high schools and more than 2,000 athletes participated in the study. Athletic coaches from eight of the 16 schools received training and delivered the program. The remaining eight schools did not participate in the CBIM program until after the evaluation was complete. The study showed that male athletes who received the program’s information had greater intentions to do something to stop abusive or disrespectful behaviors among their peers. These athletes were also more willing to do something when seeing abusive behaviors among peers or friends compared to male athletes who did not participate in the program. A year later, athletes who went through the program were much less likely to report committing abusive behaviors against females.

Research is showing the importance of starting earlier with such violence prevention programs. Dr. Miller plans to lead another study of this program in Western PA.

If you are interested in learning more, please contact Maria Catrina D. ­Virata, clinical coordinator, at 412-692-6166.

Allegheny County
Resolve Crisis Network (Formerly the ­“Allegheny County Emergency Services”):
Alle-Kiski Area HOPE Center ­(Tarentum)
24-Hour Toll Free Hotline: 1-888-299-HOPE (1-888-299-4673)
Website: http://www.akhopecenter.org/
Center for Victims (Formerly the Center for Victims of Violent Crimes, now merged with Womansplace)
Administrative Office:
Crime Victim 24-Hour Hotline: 412-392-8582
Phone: 1-412-482-3240
Domestic Violence Services:
24-Hour Crisis Help Line: 1-866-644-2882
Phone: 412-482-3240
Website: http://www.cvvc.org/
Crisis Center North
CCN Hotline: 1-412-364-5556
Phone: 1-412-364-6728
Toll Free: 1-866-782-0911
Website: http://www.crisiscenternorth.org/
Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater ­Pittsburgh
24-Hour Hotline: 1-412-687-8005
Website: http://www.wcspittsburgh.org/
National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline:
Phone: 1-866-331-9474
Online chat http://www.Loveisrespect.org
Suicide Prevention Hotline:
Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN):
1-800-656-HOPE (1-800-656-4673)
Ladies Hospital Aid Society (LHAS) LHAS Teen Dating Violence Awareness & ­Prevention (LTDVAP) Program:

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