What does ‘healthy love’ look like? Texas students meet on Valentine’s Day to talk teen dating violence

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AUSTIN (Nexstar) — As a group of a cappella singers serenaded state Capitol tourists on Valentine’s Day, family violence prevention advocates held a deeper conversation about love.

The Texas Council on Family Violence brought together students from around the state to talk about ways to curb teen dating violence.

“It’s one of the issues that has no boundaries, it doesn’t discriminate between gender between race between religion,” said Hamza Iqbal, a member of the council’s Young Hearts Matter leadership board.

According to the council, one-in-four women and one-in-six men experience sexual assault or domestic violence in their lives.

“We can break the cycle and it’s not just about adults having these conversations,” Iqbal said.

The Valentine’s Day theme was no accident.

This event was intentionally set for Feb. 14, to remind Texans what healthy love looks like.

“It’s a day of celebrating with your significant other… and really taking time to look at your relationship and just being thankful for it,” said Santino Camacho, another of the council’s youth leadership board members.

“What we’re doing is the same thing, but not just our relationship with our significant other, but our relationship with our community and our relationship with youth,” Camacho explained.

“We are here on a day to celebrate healthy relationships,” he continued. “We have to understand there are unhealthy ones. How do we combat that? How do we make that go down?”

Students from Brenham, McAllen, and Weslaco participated in student-led discussions on how to raise awareness, like supporting survivors and seeking out services.

Damariz Medina started a teen leadership council in August at the Crisis Center of West Texas in Odessa.

She said the the concept could be easily replicated anywhere in the state, by “actually interacting with these students, caring for these students, letting them know that you’re there to talk to them and to be with them and to help them out in any way.”

“We’re working really hard to educate other youth about our mission to end domestic violence in West Texas,” she said as she accepted an award as Advocate of the Year.

The Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office was recognized with the council’s Texas Partner for Change Award. District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez, Jr. and his team host community events, participate in phone banks to field questions about domestic violence, and are also working on ways to make it easier for survivors to file protective orders against abusers.

“They say that the district attorney has one of the most powerful positions, this is the way I’m using my power,” Rodriguez said. “I’m using my power to make sure that we engage individuals, that we educate people. To make sure that not only that we help the needs of these courageous individuals that come here today, who come to this podium here, come to this microphone and tell you their stories.”

State lawmakers worked on this issue as part of a school safety overhaul following the Santa Fe High School shooting in 2018.

Senate Bill 11 updated curriculum for mental health services and suicide prevention, called on districts to utilize trauma-informed care, and enhances mental health resources for survivors.

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