Would your teenager recognize the signs of abuse—physical, sexual, emotional or verbal—in a dating relationship?
Organizers of Sunday’s annual conference on healthy teen dating at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville are betting many don’t—citing the statistic that one in three U.S. teens is a victim of such abuse from a dating partner—and want to make sure all teens learn to recognize the signs and how to handle such situations.
That’s why the county’s Domestic Violence Coordinating Council is inviting students in grades six to 12, parents, educators and youth service providers to attend its ninth annual Choose Respect conference from noon to 4 p.m. at the school on Richard Montgomery Drive.
“Basically, it’s to raise awareness in the community and to promote respect,” said Kat Posada, who works in the juvenile division of the county State’s Attorney’s Office and is the social media outreach chair for the conference.
The free conference, which drew 800 people last year, is designed to educate girls and boys through workshops and other activities about the many forms of dating abuse, the role that technology can play and how bystanders can step in to help.
Posada said she often visits schools to talk to students about the warning signs of dating abuse, including excessive texting and the use of apps to monitor a person’s movements.
“A lot of kids didn’t even realize these things could ever be warning signs,” Posada said. “A lot of them think [abuse is] physical.”
During the conference, students can attend one of two workshops offered in both English and Spanish. In “It’s Not Love,” students will “assume the role of a character who is in an abusive relationship or is witnessing one,” according to the conference website. “Participants learn how to identify the red flags of dating abuse, who to talk to and how to help a friend.”
In “Bringing in the Bystander,” students will “come to understand how they play a part in proactively preventing sexual and relationship violence, and how they can help survivors get the help and support they need.”
A licensed therapist will be available for students “in case someone feels overwhelmed and wants to talk,” Posada said.
Parents also can attend a session designed to teach them how to talk about the signs of abuse and healthy dating with their kids, she said.
Tony Knapp of iHeart Radio will emcee the conference, which will also include the announcement of the winners of the conference’s public service announcement contest and free pizza served at the end of the event. Other activities include an opportunity to take a “Respect Yourself Selfie” photo on a red carpet.
Students can earn four hours of student service learning credit for attending the conference, Posada said. Gift cards for a free meal at Cava will be awarded to the first 100 students who register for and attend the event.
Parking is available at Richard Montgomery High School, which is accessible by public transportation, including Metro. The Rockville station is about a half-mile from the school. Posada said free bus transportation to Richard Montgomery will be provided from Northwood High School in Silver Spring, Paint Branch in Burtonsville and Seneca Valley in Germantown. Pickup is at 11:15 a.m. and buses will return to the schools as soon as the conference ends.