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CHAI targets teens in new abuse prevention program

By Leigh E. Rich

“We want zero tolerance in our community,” states Elaine Asarch, a founding board member of Community Help & Abuse Information (CHAI), a Jewish nonprofit aiding victims of domestic violence.

Focusing on education and prevention, CHAI’s latest program targets the younger crowd, particularly teenagers, teaching them how to participate in healthy relationships and how to recognize the signs of abuse—thus stopping the cycle of abuse before it ever starts.

The program, Jewish Teen Abuse Prevention Program (a.k.a. the Relationship Enhancement Program), is an eight-hour curriculum addressing the characteristics of healthy and unhealthy relationships, exploring gender stereotypes, examining Judaism, learning coping strategies and developing self-esteem through “worth building.”

According to CHAI Executive Director Jan Wood, Jewish Teen Abuse Prevention is dedicated to giving children a different perspective on the relationships they witness at home and in the media, and an understanding of pertinent issues such as power, control and equality.

“We will be giving it to Jewish youth groups and we’re also interested in giving it to religious schools,” she adds.

Teen violence research concludes that between 25% and 40% of teens have been assaulted by dates, and 25% will become involved in an abusive relationship, CHAI’s pamphlets state.

While these statistics are numbing, actual rates are difficult to measure, as violent incidents tend to be underreported and studies often define assault and abuse differently. CHAI’s services, however, can be and have been utilized by victims of physical, verbal and emotional abuse.

Wood estimates that the majority of abusive relationships begin as emotional abuse, “breaking down their partner’s spirit and self esteem.”

Ellyn Ancell Hutt, another founding board member of CHAI and, as Wood puts it, “our religious expert on the board,” explains that domestic violence education must be “applicable to teens. Relationship building starts very young. We’re approaching it from a preventive perspective. What does a healthy relationship look like?”

Wood adds, “Whatever the statistics [of domestic violence] are for adults, they’re similar for children.”

In fact, as all three CHAI members note, children of parents involved in an unhealthy situation tend to repeat similar behavior in their own relationships.

“Parents are setting up another round,” says Hutt.

However, “one hundred percent prevention can happen with children,” Wood asserts.

According to Hutt, CHAI’s teen program focuses on what Jewish tradition says about love, relationships and a peaceful home. Calling Judaism “a very solid, strong ancient tradition,” she believes one of the organization’s main goals is to “educate women, helping them to understand Jewish law and tradition, changing the perception of what a woman’s role is. Shalom bayit means a harmonious home where everyone is responsible.”

In the three years CHAI has been operating, 89 people have sought resources through the organization.

“The majority needed emotional support,” explains Wood. “We’ve also helped six women with financial support and others with legal services. We have money set aside in our budget to help victims with food and rent. The majority need resources in referrals, for child care and medical and legal help.”

CHAI also focuses on additional related services, such as procuring kosher food for those who have left their homes to go to shelters and motels as well as training staff members of shelters in understanding the cultural issues Jewish victims face. Many shelters require inhabitants to carry out chores—something some Jewish victims will not do during the Sabbath.

While females remain the reported majority of domestic violence victims, males have increasingly come forward. Of CHAI’s 89, one was a man.

Wood reports that cases of abuse where a male is the victim are “very underreported. It’s important when educating kids to educate them equally. Abuse inflicted by girls is becoming more prevalent.

“Roles between husbands and wives are getting more murky and are not nearly as rigid” as they once were.

“It’s not so clear cut,” Hutt adds. “It’s not beneficial to only educate half of the population. There are imbalances of power in any relationship.

“What does Judaism say about relationships?” she asks. “What does the Torah teach us about relationships of all kinds? We can use Judaism as a source of strength and not allow the Torah to be used as a weapon.”

“You can create a safe environment when you have a community that says, ‘This is wrong.’ I don’t think it should be on the backs of the victims. The biggest challenge is educating the community,” states Wood.

CHAI’s teen program, which will be delivered in Jewish youth settings by trained professionals and volunteers, is taking domestic violence education “one step deeper,” Hutt says.

There still remains much work to be done, according to the CHAI members, with the teen abuse prevention program as well as issues of child and elder abuse.

“We want people to identify the things in themselves that promote a healthy relationship,” Wood says cautiously.

“We don’t want to get into ‘blame the victim,’ but everyone has a part in it,” Hutt notes. “Not every perpetrator is abusive in every relationship.”

Another arm of prevention is recognizing signs that a relationship may be turning abusive. “Is it OK for you to have other friends and your own time?” asks Wood. “How does the partner treat his or her parents, waiters and waitresses, pets? How do they control their anger?”

“The warning signs have a facade of being good. Some of the warning signs are not so obvious. It can start out as flattery. It’s not so easy” to tell, Hutt says, acknowledging a teen victim, like an adult, will encounter these same types of signs.

Other upcoming goals for CHAI besides promoting the teen program, include establishing a relationship with JFS for long-term counseling; strengthening CHAI’s connections with other related organizations; and educating people of all ages about domestic violence.

Wood says, “We want to focus on the piece that’s not being addressed by anybody. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel.”

“The piece we want to contribute [to issues of abuse in general] might be the Jewish piece,” Hutt states.

With three years under the organization’s belt, Asarch says, “We think the community has become more educated. We have to continue to market our message. I don’t think we can ever stop doing that.”

Information: (303) 836-1818 or Crisis Line: (303) 836-1819. 

Rich, L. E. (2001, February 9). CHAI targets teens in new abuse prevention program. Intermountain Jewish News.

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