DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Millions of teenagers in relationships are forced to deal with the ramifications of domestic violence each year in the U.S. 

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 9 females in high school reported experiencing sexual violence last year. 26% of women and 15% of men reported experiencing intimate partner violence before the age of 18. 

To help teens learn how to handle themselves in these situations, the Dayton Metro Library is hosting a series of classes across multiple branches throughout the fall season. The program is called In Their Shoes: Teens and Dating Violence

The program uses intensely serious, character-based scenarios, designed to teach children how to empathize with different perspectives as well as develop the tools to protect themselves in violent situations. 

Teens receive a character card that assigns them a personality type or trait. The teens try to imagine themselves in the scenario that the character finds themselves in. 

According to officials, some of the scenarios can be emotionally triggering for participants. It is not uncommon for a teen to take a break or speak to an available counselor about the situation.

Many teens may be unaware that behavior they have experienced personally is classified as abusive.

One character, for example, focuses on LGBT issues. That character may be dealing with a troubled relationship but also not be comfortable talking to family members about their sexuality.

Informing teens about what options they would have in a wide variety of tough situations is one of the major goals of this character-based training. 

There are 12 stations set up throughout the space. The stations represent decisions teens can make about their situation. Some of these stations include “Go to hospital” and “Go to family.”

One scenario is derived from the true story of a young woman named “Kara” who died from domestic violence. Because of her death, most of the decisions the participants make as “Kara” result in their characters being “murdered.” In real life, “Kara” made many correct decisions and reached out for help but was still killed by her partner. 

The scenarios are hosted by Karen McQueary from the Artemis Center, a Dayton-based resource center for domestic violence victims. 

In the Web Exclusive below, McQueary explains how the participants in the program use character cards to engage with tough situations: 

The program has been used in schools throughout the country as well as libraries. The program tries to reach as many teens as possible. 

The program also gives adults a better sense of what teenagers may be going through, so they may aid them going forward. The program helps teens identify red flags in their relationships as well as tell them where to go if they are dealing with a violent or abusive situation. 

Officials said that many teens today are experiencing new forms of abuse due to the growth of technology and social media. 

“Sexting, stalking, phones today have location devices,” said McQueary. 

Many teens are unaware of what behavior may be considered abusive from their partner. Some may request pictures, some may show intense jealousy and call repeatedly, and others can use technology as a means to control and monitor the other’s behavior. 

Officials said that they hope teens and parents are able to walk away from the program with a better understanding of what choices are available to them.

“The one thing I always say in domestic violence situations,” said McQueary, “is that I want people to know they aren’t alone and there is help out there.” 

A full list of the class schedule can be found here.

In the Web Exclusive below, McQueary explains some of the challenges unique to teens in these abusive situations: