MARBLEHEAD – Sometimes that nice Jewish boy isn’t really so nice. Even if he seems perfect at first glance, all kinds of disturbing behaviors can be occurring behind closed doors or on password-protected phone screens.
“I remember a story of a kid in high school where a young woman disclosed to her friend all this really horrible stuff that her boyfriend was doing to her, and her boyfriend was a star athlete, captain of the football team, and when the friend reported it to the guidance counselor, he said, ‘If it wasn’t coming from you, I would never believe it, because this abuser is seen as such a superstar in every way,’” said Elizabeth Schön Vainer, director of Journey to Safety, the domestic abuse program of Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Boston.
On Feb. 26, as part of Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, Schön Vainer and her colleague, Outreach and Program Coordinator Julie Youdovin, will speak at the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore in Marblehead about ways to foster healthy relationships among teens, who are disproportionately vulnerable to intimate partner abuse. The presentation is called “Guiding our Teens in the age of ‘The Bachelor and The Bchelorette,’” and was co-organized by Safe Havens Interfaith Partnership Against Domestic Violence, a Boston organization that obtained the funding.
According to the dating abuse education organization Love is Respect, nearly one in three girls in the U.S. is a victim of physical, emotional, and verbal abuse. Additionally, girls and young women between the ages of 16 to 24 suffer abuse three times the national average.
“We don’t see ‘nice Jewish boys’ as screaming at their partners or pushing their partners into lockers, or telling their partners, ‘This is what you can and can’t do and I’m going to set all the rules,’” said Youdovin. “All of those things sometimes make it hard to hear when a Jewish teen says, ‘This person is doing this to me.’ Sometimes when someone is from the same community, it becomes harder to see what kind of harm they can be doing.”
Abuse also can take many forms, and some are harder to recognize than others. Youdovin and Schön Vainer will discuss the many ways that one partner – and not always the male – exerts unhealthy control over the other. “We hear stories from peer leaders that sometimes they’re being told that they need to stay up at night and respond to any text message, because that’s how they show their love,” said Schön Vainer. “It may be someone’s first relationship, there’s the added feelings of attraction and desire that make this very complicated. The young person not used to getting this kind of attention is all of a sudden being told, ‘You should help me with my homework because I’m a senior and you’re a sophomore – my grades matter more than yours.’”
New technologies have made controlling and manipulative behavior much easier. Youdovin and Schön Vainer mentioned relationships where one partner will demand that the other turn on tracking features on their phone so they know where they are at all times, or closely monitor social media to see who they’re with and where they are. Often, the abusive partner will demand that the other give up friends and hobbies.
“If you’re dating somebody and your world is getting smaller, if that person is asking you to give up things that are important to you, and they’re saying it in the context of ‘So we can have more time together,’ or ‘Because I love you so much, because you’re so important to me,’ then that’s a problem,” said Youdovin. “Your partner shouldn’t be asking you to quit the play, your partner should be in the front row on opening night cheering for you.”
At the free JCC event, which is being held in partnership with the Safe Havens Interfaith Partnership Against Domestic Violence and sponsored by the Jewish Women’s Endowment Fund of the North Shore, Youdovin and Schön Vainer also will discuss what to do when you suspect that a friend or loved one is in an abusive relationship. Rather than delivering any stern ultimatums, they recommend making yourself available to that person and letting them know all the resources that are available to them.
“Open a door for that person to talk, and if that person’s not ready to talk about it, open a conversation about what a healthy relationship looks like and try to sound as nonjudgmental as possible and leave the conversation where that person knows that they can come back,” said Youdovin, who emphasized that parents should have conversations early and often about what healthy relationships look like.
“There’s a program my kids did in school when they were very young, and the mantra is, ‘You have the right to be safe, strong, and free, and you don’t have the right to make somebody else feel not safe, not strong, and not free.”
The program will take place on Feb. 26 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the JCC of the North Shore, 4 Community Road, Marblehead. To RSVP, email firstname.lastname@example.org.