Prevail Helps Teens in Crisis Who Have Suffered Abuse
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photographer / Amy Payne
“The truth is that every one of us knows someone who has been a victim of domestic violence — even if they haven’t told you,” says Susan Ferguson, Executive Director of Prevail, a 501(c)3 public charity that provides crisis and restorative services for children, adolescents and adults who have suffered physical, sexual or other abuse.
“Folks are often surprised to learn that 3,000 people walk through the doors of Prevail every year,” Ferguson says. Roughly 25 percent of their clients are under the age of 18 (significantly teens). The organization offers a number of support groups, several of which are targeted to teens and two that are specifically for domestic violence. They also provide sexual assault groups for teens and groups that revolve around establishing healthy relationships.
“We talk to kids who have struggled with boundaries in their own relationships or who have experienced domestic violence themselves,” Ferguson says. “Those who have witnessed domestic violence in their homes are more likely to be victims or perpetuators themselves, so we want to stop that cycle of abuse before it starts by showing them what a healthy relationship is.”
Kelly Growden, Primary Prevention Specialist at Prevail, regularly visits middle schools in the area to teach the “Safe Dates” program, a curriculum that discusses red flags of an unhealthy relationship, as well as boundary setting.
“Teens need to make decisions about what’s okay and what’s not because when people don’t honor your boundaries, that can quickly turn dangerous,” Ferguson says.
This is true of sexual and other boundaries.
“Even deciding how much time you’re going to spend with someone or how quickly you’re expected to reply to a text message is important because when one person in the relationship thinks that the other person owes them their time, it can get ugly. Plus, as you begin neglecting other relationships, it becomes isolating,” she says.
Prevail staff are proactive in establishing a community that will not tolerate violent behavior.
“We want to create safe, stable, nurturing environments for kids so that as they grow up, they don’t feel a need to exert power and control in their relationships,” Ferguson adds.
Since February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness & Prevention Month, several schools are planning an “Orange Out” during sporting events (orange is the color that symbolizes teen violence awareness). Noblesville High students are creating fleece tie blankets for those who participate in Prevail’s support groups. HSE students are producing a video project to spread the word about Prevail. Westfield is coordinating a Parent Night to encourage parents to initiate conversations with their teens about such difficult topics. Growden says that parents are a big factor in preventing dating violence.
“They can learn the warning signs, talk early and often, and stay engaged,” says Growden, noting that 45 percent of parents have not discussed teen dating violence with their children in the last 12 months because they think their kids are too young to explore dating, they don’t know what to say, or they assume their children will learn about it through experience. “There are lots of great conversation guides available from groups like Love Is Respect, Break the Cycle and Futures Without Violence.”
“By shining a light on this topic, we give an opportunity for those to seek help instead of suffering through it,” she says. “We’re helping people find their power because everyone deserves a safe place.”
For more information, visit prevailinc.com. Prevail is located at 1100 South 9th Street, Suite 100, Noblesville or give them a call at 317-773-6942.