The panel kicks off National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Week in Pittsburgh, but, more importantly, the event is aimed to drum up support and awareness of H.B. 2026.
Event organizer Shelly Sufrin, interim director at JDATF, believes dating abuse education is integral to the knowledge passed down by schools and parents to developing teenagers.
“The challenge is getting [a curriculum] to the educators and finding something that works for their school as well as at home — that’s where it starts,” said Sufrin. “Parents need to teach their children, just like they teach them not to touch a hot stove. It’s going to hurt.”
In assembling the panel, Sufrin wanted to create a group representing the full spectrum of dating violence, from the seemingly innocent beginnings to often devastating ends.
“They all fill in from beginning to end, listed as such, from survivor to legislator, and all the folks in between,” she said.
Those panelists include Dr. Gary Cuccia, whose daughter was murdered by her boyfriend in Monroeville last year; Mary Jo Harwood, associate director of the Center for Victims of Violence and Crime; Detective Denise Demarco of Pittsburgh Police’s Sexual Assault and Family Crisis Unit; and David Spurgeon, deputy district attorney of Allegheny County’s Domestic Violence Prosecution Unit.
Frankel rounds out the panel, which will be moderated by Common Pleas Court Judge David N. Wecht.
The true goal of the panel, said Sufrin, is to open lines of communication about a hush-hush topic, especially across generation gaps.
“Teens often will not come to a parent or adult,” said Sufrin. “Traditionally, they’ll go to another teen, which is why peer education is so important — that’s the first line of education.”
But it won’t be the last, if H.B. 2026 is enacted. The bill, which was first referred to the state House Committee of Education last October and is primarily sponsored by Rep. H. Scott Conklin, would amend the state’s Public School Code of 1949 to include a clause requiring all schools to “establish a policy to address incidents of dating violence involving students at school,” which would, by law, go into effect by the end of this year.
While peer counseling is a substantial step toward mediating dating violence, there simply isn’t enough talk about this often taboo topic, said Sufrin.
“The most troubling part is the sheer [lack of] awareness,” she said. “If you can’t touch it or feel it or define or describe it, then you don’t know how to look for it or stop it. And you don’t know how to teach young teens and adults how to prevent it.”
Continued Sufrin, “Folks like this haven’t been in the same room together to have this conversation in awhile. The conversation is starting to be shared by everyone in the continuum.”
The discussion is co-sponsored by Ladies Hospital Aid Society, Rodef Shalom Congregation, Pittsburgh’s Chapter of Jewish Women International, National Council of Jewish Women and NA’AMAT USA, Pittsburgh Council. The panel is free and open to the public.
(Justin Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)