Dating violence: don't let it happen to you!

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon - posted Fri., Nov. 18, 2011
Rockville High School Resource Officer Earl Middleton of the Vernon Police Department gives a presentation to students on Nov. 17. Photos by Steve Smith.
Rockville High School Resource Officer Earl Middleton of the Vernon Police Department gives a presentation to students on Nov. 17. Photos by Steve Smith.

Thirty percent of female murder victims are killed by their husbands or boyfriends. Teen dating violence is also the leading cause of injury to teen girls.

On Nov. 17, Rockville High School Resource Officer Earl Middleton, of the Vernon Police Department, gave a presentation to juniors and seniors on dating violence.

Middleton began by saying how, in his 14 years on the force, he never really understood domestic abuse calls. “We’d get there, and people had been assaulted, thrown against walls, etc.,” he said, “I never understood why someone would assault, abuse, or hurt somebody they supposedly love.”

When he began his assignment at RHS, Middleton said he began to notice things he didn’t like in the way the students interacted with each other. He added that the definitions of domestic violence and teen dating violence are virtually the same. As of Oct. 1 of this year, the legal definition of domestic violence was amended to include persons in a dating relationship or recently in a dating relationship.

Middleton explained how that definition changed the way police handle situations. “My job is about discretion,” he said, adding that in a hypothetical situation where a girl slaps her boyfriend, it would have been allowed, in the past, for an officer to assess the situation and potentially give a warning, whereas now, the girl would necessarily be arrested.

“What I saw in those houses and on the streets of this town,” he said, “I was also seeing here… And it’s not just here, it’s in every school in America.”

Middleton said studies showed that teens ages 13 to 18 are in the highest risk category for dating violence, because they are experiencing relationships for the first time, but also because teens are unlikely to talk to others, such as parents, teachers and police, when things go wrong. The statistics show that males commit 95 percent of domestic and dating violence incidents, and females about 5 percent, but Middleton said that from his experience, the number of female offenders is actually higher, due to the lower likelihood that males will report being abused.

Middleton showed several videos of actual incidents involving dating violence. In one, a jealous teen confronts his girlfriend and shoves her against a wall. A show of hands indicated that the RHS crowd was not quite unanimous in thinking this was a violent act. Several hands were raised when Middleton asked whether students had witnessed similar acts at their school.

Middleton tried to debunk several myths about dating violence, including that jealousy is indicative of true love, and that dating violence is not that serious. “It can’t happen to me,” Middleton said, is another common myth.

“More than three out of 10 [people in a relationship] experience some kind of physical violence in their relationship,” he said. “One in four experiences some type of abuse, whether it’s physical, verbal, emotional or sexual.”

Another myth is that victims are people who deserve – or ‘ask for’ – abuse. “The fact is, abusers believe they have a right to control their partners,” Middleton said. “They see them as lesser people than themselves. Victims are made to feel they have no control over their relationship.”

Addressing the myth that if a person stays in an abusive relationship, then the abuse must not be that bad, Middleton explained that there are actually a number of reasons victims stay. “Financial dependence,” he said, “loss of self-confidence, they have a child in common, they don’t recognize that what’s happening to them is abuse.”

As a means of preventing abuse, Middleton explained some “relationship basics.”

“A relationship is all about respect, good communication and honesty,” he said. “Respect yourself before and during a relationship. Respect the fact that people are going to have differences, and allow them to be themselves. Respect the need of privacy. Guys, that means don’t follow your girlfriend around, and girls, don’t be jumping on Facebook and Twitter trying to figure out where he is.”

Middleton said he purposefully made the presentation interactive and injected humor, in order to keep students’ attention. He has given the presentation at high schools in other towns, including Glastonbury and Windsor, as well as at Manchester Community College. He also has a version for middle school students.

Typically, Middleton said he gets mixed reactions from the students. One RHS student approached him afterward and told him that he related to the material, because he had seen a family member become a victim. In one case, a dating violence incident was reported because of his presentations.

When he presented at Windsor High School on two consecutive days, Middleton was told on the second day that a female student had seen another girl in a physical confrontation with her boyfriend and reported it to that school’s resource officer. The officer said that had Middleton’s presentation not made an impact, it was likely they would have never heard about the incident.

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