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Advocates look to educate youngsters of abuse before it takes a hold of their lives

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In a role-playing scenario involving do-mestic and sexual violence that seem-ed all too real, participants in a workshop Thursday tried to take the best action they could to stay safe given the limited resources they had.

In an effort to escape an abusive boy-friend, the rich and poor "victims" turned in fake money to get an apartment, hire a lawyer, get a restraining order, go to a shelter or stay with a sister.

In the end, all but two of the 30 participants -- which included mostly female teenagers -- ended up back with the abuser when they ran out of resources.

"It looked really hard to survive on your own," said one young woman after the exercise was completed.

Presented by Dani Lindner, community education coordinator for Shelter House in Willmar, the workshop was meant to teach young women the characteristics of healthy and unhealthy relationships and what to do if they found themselves in an unhealthy one. Shelter House provides crisis intervention for victims of abuse as well as other related services in several counties in west central and southwestern Minnesota.

Linder presented some rather stark statistics about the challenges young women face while dating.

She said about one in three high school students have been or will be involved in an abusive relationship; one in four girls who have been in a relationship have been pressured to have sex; and 40 percent of teenage girls age 14-17 say they know a peer who's been hit, punched, kicked, slapped, choked or otherwise physically hurt by their partner.

"We know this is happening to a lot of women and girls," Lindner said. "It's an epidemic."

She said one in four college women will experience sexual violence, which includes sexual contact without the victim's consent.

Before girls reach 18 years of age one in about three to four will experience sexual violence, as will one in three to six boys before they turn 18.

"It happens a lot," said Lindner, adding that the victim is "never to blame" and that "giving in is not the same as giving consent."

Frustrated by a low self-esteem and fueled by a need for power, abusers seek to control their victims through emotional abuse, threats and physical and sexual violence, said Lindner, who provided the group with a picture of a "teen power and control wheel" that had written examples of what an unhealthy relationship looks like.

The other side of the wheel had examples of a healthy relationship built on trust, respect and honesty.

Knowing what abuse looks like doesn't necessarily mean it's easy to walk away from it, Lindner said.

As the participants learned by walking in the shoes of a fictional victim, financial limitations, difficulty maneuvering through the legal system and barriers like fear, shame, love, loyalty, guilt and hope can mean victims have few choices other than to stay with the abuser.

"So when you're broke, you go back home?" asked Kandiyohi County Commissioner Richard Larson, who clutched his remaining "money" before realizing he had to return to the abuser as part of the role-playing game.

"Pretty much," responded Lindner.

During the interactive session, Lindner provided real-life advice for the young women that could help them avoid abusive relationships and what to do if they find themselves in one.

She said organizations like Shelter House provide counseling and assistance for those who have questions about relationships. They also provide temporary housing for victims who need to escape abuse.


Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750