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August 29, 2012

Making a PACT

Park Hill, Algonquin and California neighborhood teens aim to reduce dating violence

Before Ashanti Dallas could legally drive or attend a high school prom she witnessed dating violence. During middle school, a good friend’s boyfriend hit and verbally abused her friend. Dallas voiced her concerns. The young girl shelved them.

“I couldn’t help her until she wanted help,” says Dallas, now a poised freshman at Jefferson Community and Technical College. She sits with four fellow teenage girls, all youth advisory board members of a newly formed organizationPark Hill, Algonquin and California Teens (PACT) in Action.

Dallas’ sister, Taleah Dallas, a high school junior, pipes in.

“In PACT, we talk about control,” she says. “And part of PACT in Action is getting knowledge of what an unhealthy relationship is.”

Formed in June, PACT in Action is a project of the Center for Women and Families and KentuckyOne Health, which has provided an 18-month, $235,000 grant to launch the project. PACT’s ultimate goal is to achieve a 10 percent reduction in the incidence of domestic violence by the year 2020 in the 40210 ZIP code, from 146 reports a year down to around 130.

The selected ZIP code lies in a region that traditionally exhibits a high rate of domestic violence. According to the Louisville Metro Police Department’s Second Division, which covers Park Hill, Algonquin, California, Park DuValle, Shawnee and a few other west Louisville neighborhoods, the area has posted more than 750 domestic violence incidents so far this year.

Khalilah Collins, PACT’s project manager, says many risk factors in these neighborhoods exist for domestic and dating violence: high rates of unemployment and youth arrests for violent crimes, low educational attainment, poverty. She says teens involved in PACT will act as ambassadors, arming peers in school and community centers with facts on root causes and signs of domestic violence. Reaching out now, she hopes, will pay off in years to come.

“The thought is that these kids and the kids that they touch in their age range will be adults in 2020,” she says. “And we’ll see a decrease because of the work they’ve done now.”

Eventually, PACT hopes to expand their efforts beyond the 40210 ZIP code. LMPD’s Third Division, comprised of Fairdale, Iroquois, Pleasure Ridge Park, Southside and Valley Station, is leading the city so far this year with more than 850 domestic violence incidents.

The Kentucky Domestic Violence Association (KDVA) reports one in three women in the state will become a domestic violence victim in her lifetime. So it’s no wonder that the crime touches every corner of Jefferson County. Take, for instance, LMPD’s Fifth Division, made up of middle and upper class neighborhoods like the Highlands, Cherokee Gardens, Crescent Hill and Bonnycastle. It’s totaled more than 200 such incidents in 2012.

Approximately one in five female high school students reports being physically or sexually abused by a dating partner, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. (But it’s important to note that victims are not always female.)

KDVA prevention coordinator Jessica Morgan says there’s long been a lack of attention around this issue, as well as inadequate outreach services for teenage victims. But she feels that’s changing. “We know that victimization happens before the age of 24, for the most part,” Morgan says. “And that increases their chances of being re-victimized across their life span.”

So a project like PACT may provide that early intervention. KDVA also recently piloted a new project called “TEENS.talk” in Hazard, Lexington and Bardstown, Ky. The eight-week program uses arts and technology as a way to encourage healthy relationships and cultural change. KDVA has received a grant to expand the program into five other counties.

Despite some of these new efforts, KDVA’s executive director, Sherry Currens, says teens still lack one major piece of protection. Kentucky is one of six states that do not allow protective orders for dating violence. A couple must be married, have a child in common, or live together.

“That has an impact, especially on teens who are more likely to be injured in a dating violence relationship,” Currens says. “So from our point of view, that’s a problem for Kentucky. It’s hard to get services for teens who have a problem.”

A victim of domestic or dating violence can always call the National Domestic Violence Hotline or seek help from local shelters. Soon PACT will form a support group for kids stuck in dangerous relationships. But more than that, the 13 youth board members, ages 12 to 18, want to work proactively.

They hope to post weekly educational YouTube videos that will be sent out via social media. Outreach will take place at schools that pull students from the 40210 ZIP code. The group also wants to get involved in policy change.

On a recent afternoon, as a few of the youth board members discuss PACT, two girls in long, floral dresses, their heads wrapped in scarves, say their involvement has forced them to rethink tradition. In 2004, Hawa and Changwa Muya arrived with their family in Kentucky as Somali refugees. The Central High School students say forced marriage, a common practice in their homeland, no longer feels acceptable.

“That can push you into messy violence because they can treat you any way they want because they feel you’re young,” says Changwa Muya. “I knew somebody who was married when she was 13 and the husband was 37. So he can abuse her and you can’t do anything about it because you want to make your mom and dad happy.”

It’s a position that challenges her parents’ view. PACT project manager Collins and the youth board say while kids have been open to PACT’s message, parents, regardless of where they’re from, may pose some of the toughest pushback.

“Parents, in general, don’t want to think, No. 1, their kids are dating. And No. 2, that they’re getting hit or mistreated,” Collins says. “But these relationships they’re forming right now will impact how they interact as adults.”

 

PACT in Action will hold its official kickoff at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage on Wednesday, Sept. 5, from 5-7 p.m.

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