Friday, June 18, 2004

The Seattle Times: Immigrant teens to get help halting date abuse

The Seattle Times: Immigrant teens to get help halting date abuse

A recent report states that a number of Eastside immigrant families are experiencing serious conflicts around dating because parents have values that forbid it and their teenagers live in a culture where it is normal.

If teens can't talk to their parents about relationships, they also will not talk to them about abuse, say experts in dating violence.

The Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS) runs a nationally recognized Seattle program that trains female high-school students to educate their peers and community about staying safe in dating relationships.

Now, they are bringing it to the Eastside.

With a $300,000 federal grant from the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, ACRS is expanding. The group conducted a five-month study of teen dating and violence among Asian-Pacific Americans and other youth from Eastside immigrant communities. The nonprofit conducted focus groups with parents and teens, and interviews with school administrators, counselors, ethnic coalitions and social-service providers.

The study, released Tuesday at a Bellevue forum, involved more than 100 Eastsiders of Cambodian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Latino, African, Japanese and Korean descent. All of them agreed dating violence is a serious problem.

The teens told of friends being hit, punched, threatened, verbally abused and monitored by boyfriends.

Eastside school counselors and parents confirmed that dating violence is harming teens and that getting culturally appropriate help is difficult because of a lack of providers who are experienced in working with immigrant and refugee groups.

National research has found that if teens can't talk to their parents about personal issues, they will turn to their peers, especially in abusive relationships.

The federal grant is allowing ACRS to bring its Teen Peer Advocate Program to the Eastside, where the foreign-born population continues to explode. The same model will be used, but focus groups suggested the effort be brought into middle schools and that programs also be created for parents.

The peer-advocate program trains female high-school students to educate others about staying safe in dating relationships. In the fall, it will start at Sammamish and Interlake high schools.

The training gives young women the resources they need if they find themselves in an unhealthy relationship, as well as the skills to help their friends. It teaches them the dynamics of a healthy relationship and the warning signs of dating violence.

Junko Yamazaki, director of ACRS' Children, Youth and Families program, said 66 percent of student victims report abuse to their friends, while only 26 percent tell their parents.

"Being able to talk to a group of girls really helped me work out issues in my life," said Leanne Plancic, a graduate of the Seattle program.

Bellevue's Asian-Pacific-American population more than doubled between 1990 and 2000, according to the U.S. census, and ACRS is concerned about the underserved population.

"We need counselors that understand language and culture," said Ellen Bhang, a program coordinator.

"Students from (Eastside) high schools told us that they find it especially difficult to talk to their parents because of a clash in cultural values related to dating," said Yamazaki.

Although each culture is unique, many of them share taboos that can stop girls from getting information about topics such as birth control, domestic violence or depression.

Parents in the study said they wanted to learn more about talking with their teens about dating and sexuality, and requested language-appropriate workshops and brochures that teach them the signs of a relationship turned violent.

Many people think dating violence refers only to physical attacks, but it also can include verbal abuse, threats, intimidation, isolating victims from friends and family, as well as physical and sexual assault.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association stated that approximately one in five female high-school students reported being physically or sexually abused by a dating partner.

Leslie Fulbright: 206-515-5637 or


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