CRC to share insight on domestic violence at San Dieguito Academy forum

Parents and students will have the opportunity to learn about domestic violence situations and how to look out for the early warning signs in a forum at San Dieguito Academy (SDA) on Oct. 17.

Jani Sepanik, domestic violence education and prevention coordinator at the Community Resource Center (CRC), will lead "Understanding Healthy and Unhealthy Relationships" from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at 800 Santa Fe Drive, Encinitas, in the Mustang Commons. Sepanik has hosted similar lectures at local schools, businesses and organizations.

The event is open to the public, but registration is required by emailing sss.sda@gmail.com, as space is limited.

Prior to the lecture, Sepanik — who has been on the CRC staff for two years and working in the domestic violence field for five years — recently discussed her work and previewed the topics she will discuss at SDA.

What types of domestic violence services does the CRC provide?

The CRC has a full-service domestic violence program. We've had that since the 1990s. We are a state-recognized domestic violence agency. What that means is we offer a whole array of services to people who have been affected by domestic violence. We offer a 24-hour emergency hotline. We offer emergency shelter for people who need to leave a violent situation and be in a safe location that's undisclosed. For our clients who have to leave their situations because of violence, we help them get back on their feet through mental health counseling, with our food and nutrition program, and with a case manager who can help them determine their goals. Those would all be categorized as intervention services for after violence has happened. In addition, we have, for a long time, had someone on the staff who was able to offer prevention education in the community [at schools and businesses].

Why is it important to educate people about domestic violence situations and healthy relationships?

Specifically, we do know based on research, that if you identify something that is a harmful behavior and you want to put an end to it, it's much easier if you spend your effort at a campaign to get people not to start than it is to try to assist someone to stop. It's referred to as primary prevention. Getting in there and talking to younger people and people who are just starting relationships, it's a much better approach to educate people about the potential dangers of abusive relationships than after they have been harmed. We know that when someone is involved in a domestic violence relationship, the harm is much greater than just to one person. It's harmful to the whole family and can be very disturbing to people who live around them. It's certainly disturbing to children. Healing and recovering from a violent relationship is a long road.

Who are your target audiences?

I speak to high school students and adults, both community groups and groups of professionals, who come across people who may be affected by violence.

What forms of abuse do you talk about?

Physical violence gets the most attention. It's also where the law comes into play, in terms of the laws addressing domestic violence, specifically. Those laws are, for the most part, geared toward instances involving physical violence, sexual violence or stalking. Far more people are suffering from emotional and psychological forms of abuse, and that can take on some additional elements, too, in terms of how people are able to use their power over another person to harm them. Financial abuse is part of that as well, especially if it's in a situation where there are children involved. ... All of our staff, beyond our licensed counselors, are trained to help in these situations.

How big of a problem is domestic violence locally?

I have not found any local research done anywhere. Research is very expensive. ... There isn't any reason to believe the national data can't be localized. Domestic violence does occur in all demographics that you could name. It does incur in both sexes, at all income levels, in rural places, in suburban places, in urban places, in all races... It's very suggestive that national data is applicable to our local area. When talking to law enforcement, they experience their volume of domestic violence calls as consistent with that of national data.

What has been found in the national data?

One in three girls in the United States is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner. That figure far exceeds any other type of youth violence. One in 10 high school students has been hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend. Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence, which is another name for domestic violence. That's about triple the national average in that particular age group. Violent behavior can often begin between the ages of 12 and 18. It does start really young, which is why we reach out to youth in our communities. We want them to understand not only the dangers of abusive behavior but also all of the benefits of healthy behavior.

What kinds of topics will be covered at the event on Oct. 17 at SDA?

That's part of the school's series for parents, where they ask the parents what topics may be of interest to them. We expect that it will be a group of parents and students together, so it's a little bit different to do a group like that. We will be talking about what are the descriptions of healthy relationships versus unhealthy relationships. They'll be able to understand what some of those behaviors and traits are. We'll talk about the warning signs of abuse when you're starting a relationship. There are often some consistent early warning signs to help the students and parents understand what they might want to be looking for. We also want to help them identify what they are looking for in a partner and out of a relationship. ... A lot of times, if you ask people if they've ever thought of that before, most people have never talked about it or thought about it.

Do you see young people becoming more aware of such situations?

I would say yes. Teenagers are aware of abuse and violence. They are not so aware of the more subtle behaviors that are usually the early warning signs. Those are usually still unknown to a younger person. Domestic violence and relationship abuse is really about one person's use of power and control over another. Young people aren't necessarily aware of power dynamics and how that works within a relationship. But there is greater awareness. In the last year, in response to the #MeToo movement, there is ever-greater awareness. With that, especially, being a movement that's flooding social media, they have an awareness.

Where can people get more information if they want you to bring your program to their school or organization?

They can contact me directly for a training for a group, school, neighborhood association, church or any kind of group in the community. I would be happy to talk to anyone about what we can offer. They can email me at JSepanik@crcncc.org.

This Q&A has been edited for length.

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