Teens meet at Mall of America to help curb violence

  • Article by: KELLY SMITH
  • Star Tribune
  • February 16, 2013 - 7:13 PM

For teens like Rashonda Williams of Duluth, it can feel isolating to endure experiences such as bullying and other violence. But they're not alone, as the Denfeld High School sophomore and more than 50 teenage girls and boys from across Minnesota learned Saturday.

Young people from Red Wing to Worthington attended a one-day teen summit at the Mall of America in recognition of February's Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. For the boys and girls, who ranged in age from 11 to 19, it's a once-a-year opportunity to connect with other teens going through peer-on-peer bullying, domestic abuse or dating violence, as well as to learn what they can do to build support for other victims at their own schools.

"Perseverance is key," said Sasha Cotton, program manager for the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, which held the fourth annual event. "Negative experiences don't necessarily predict our future. We can take those experiences and flourish."

In the past decade, violence prevention efforts have shifted focus from only adult women to teenagers and other youth, who also need coping and prevention resources, said Cotton, who argues that teen dating violence is on the increase.

"It's everywhere and it happens in every ethnic group and every demographic," she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, youth violence -- anything from bullying to physical assaults -- is the second cause of death of persons ages 15 to 24. In 2010, an average of 13 young people a day nationwide were victims of homicide. And in 2011, 20 percent of high school students reported being bullied on school property while 16 percent reported being bullied electronically.

And with an increasingly connected world of text messages, Facebook and Twitter, teens are also becoming more overwhelmed by violence, Cotton said, because they're unable to escape it.

That's in part why, every February, the coalition also launches the Purple Peace Zone Campaign, a public awareness campaign.

"Everybody should know they aren't alone," Williams said.

And it's not just women. Cotton said more men and boys, like Zach Thelen, 15, are attending the coalition's annual summit and other events throughout the year.

Just like Williams, Thelen and his classmates from Brooklyn Park's Prairie Seeds Academy said Saturday's event helped them connect with teens who had similar stories.

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141; Twitter: @kellystrib

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