Merlene Davis: 'Saving My Sista' hopes to educate teens, parents about dating violence

Mattie Morton, Program Administrator at  Urban County Government Youth Services offices  on Monday July 30, 2012 in Lexington, Ky.  Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Mattie Morton, Program Administrator at Urban County Government Youth Services offices on Monday July 30, 2012 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

If there had been dance cards when I was attending high school events, mine would not have been filled.

In fact, the one boy brave enough to come to my house and sit on my front porch was soon scared off by my father, who chose that time to clean his shotgun, which he had never used before or after that day.

Boys only talked to me because I always had my homework, and it was always right.

I point that out not as a lesson in ancient history, but to show how much things have changed in the world of teen dating.

Had I been allowed to date in my teen years, I might not have been so surprised by the number of teens who are verbally and physically abused by those they date.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 22 percent of women and 15 percent of men who are adult victims of rape, stalking and physical violence by an intimate partner first experienced partner violence between the ages of 11 and 17.

And about 9 percent of high school students, according to the CDC, report being intentionally hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend within the previous year.

All that adds up to about 1.5 million high school students nationwide who have experienced physical abuse from a dating partner in one year.

What is that all about? Why are our children going through all that in the name of love?

Mattie Morton, a local youth services worker and the coordinator of Imani Youth Achievers, doesn't have all the answers, but she wants to stop it.

Her group, with help from a Partners for Youth grant, is hosting a free luncheon on Dec. 20 for girls and their mothers to make them more aware of the disturbing trend.

"Saving my Sista" will be held at Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church, 3534 Tates Creek Road, from noon to 2:30 p.m.

"We have a lot of teenage girls who are in relationships and who don't recognize the signs of abuse," Morton said. "We're doing this now because in the winter time the abuse tends to increase."

Stories she has heard include girls being controlled by cellphones or by being hit by guys, she said. Just saying they are not interested in dating a guy can lead to an altercation.

Gentel Blair, a 2012 graduate of Henry Clay High School, will speak to the girls and mothers. Blair ran track at Henry Clay and accepted a track scholarship at St. Augustine University in Raleigh, N.C.

She is the daughter of Sharrieffa Barksdale, an NCAA champion in the 400-meter hurdles for the University of Tennessee in 1983 and a semifinalist in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.

"She was in one of my programs," Morton said, "and comes from a single-parent household."

Blair is studying communications at St. Augustine and is honing her skills by being a sideline reporter for the school's other athletic teams and with The G Show on which she interviews athletes, Morton said.

Blair's purpose is to motivate girls to want more and to dream bigger, not settling for being treated badly.

Morton hopes to have a victim share her story as well.

"What we want them to get is that they are worth more than that," she said, speaking of scantily clad women in music videos and TV shows. "You are not someone's punching bag or someone's toy. Some of them don't get it."

Sometimes there are long-term consequences from abuse in the teen years. The CDC reports that some lingering effects include depression and anxiety, engagement in unhealthy behaviors and thoughts of suicide.

Unfortunately, 81 percent of parents surveyed by the National Teen Dating Violence Prevention Initiative believe teen dating violence is not an issue or don't know if it is an issue. And most parents, 54 percent, said they had not spoken to their child about the possibility of that kind of violence occurring.

That's why Morton has invited mothers or grandmothers to attend as well.

The luncheon will be the second event this year that Morton has coordinated in an effort to combat problems teens face every day. The first one was in April and it dealt with female bullying.

"I will show a video of teen dating violence," Morton said, "and I will give them some statistics and facts."

It sounds like we parents and grandparents especially need to hear what she has to say.