Local agencies, schools shine a light on teen dating violence

Call to attention

Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez, left, speaks to attendees at the 5th Annual Young Hearts Matter Teen Dating Violence Prevention event at Mary Hoge Middle School on Saturday in Weslaco. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

WESLACO — Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez Jr., in collaboration with Weslaco ISD and the Weslaco Police Department, hosted the fifth annual Young Hearts Matter Teen Dating Violence Prevention event on Saturday morning.

Dozens of people walked the main hallway at Mary Hoge Middle School, where law enforcement agencies and nonprofit organizations provided information about teen dating violence.

The event featured a self-defense class for teens, parent sessions, a community fair and guest speakers from local and county organizations.

Speaking at the event included Weslaco Police Chief Joel Rivera, Weslaco ISD Assistant Superintendent Dr. Sergio Garcia, Place 3 Weslaco City Commissioner J.P. Rodriguez, Young Hearts Matter Teen Ambassador Emilia Marroquin, as well as the DA.

“In the month of February, we observe teen dating violence with the Young Hearts Matter campaign, which is a statewide campaign” Ricardo Rodriguez said. “Our office, along with all our victim advocates, we’ve been working with the community since the month of February in bringing awareness and educating on teen dating violence.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, teen dating violence is considered physical violence, sexual violence, psychological aggression or stalking among intimate partners.

The CDC website reports that approximately 1 in 11 female and 1 in 15 male high school students have reported experiencing physical dating violence within the last year. One in nine female and 1 in 36 male high school students have reported sexual dating violence in the last year.

The DA said his office has visited numerous schools throughout Hidalgo County in an effort to spread awareness about teen dating violence and educate individuals about services available to help victims of teen dating violence and domestic violence.

“This gives us an opportunity to come together,” Rodriguez said. “You see a lot of law enforcement here as well. We’re here to talk about and have a conversation about teen dating violence. The numbers are so high across the nation about how students somehow or someway are being abused, whether it’s physically, verbally or emotionally, because of what’s going on in the schools.”

Attendees bow their head during a prayer before the start of the 5th Annual Young Hearts Matter Teen Dating Violence Prevention event at Mary Hoge Middle School on Saturday in Weslaco. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

Garcia said there’s not enough awareness about teen dating violence in the community.

“We need to let people know, we need to let teens know that it’s not OK for them to have a relationship with someone who abuses them, males and females,” Garcia said. “I think (teen dating violence) is more common than people know, and we want to bring that awareness out.”

Emilia Marroquin, 16, a junior at IB Lamar Academy in McAllen and a Young Hearts Matter teen ambassador, said she has worked to spread awareness about teen dating violence at her school.

“At my school we’re starting a program where we’re educating our teachers to learn how to deal with these issues with their students,” Marroquin explained. “We have fliers up around the campus that kind of help students guide each other to learn what is healthy and what is not, like how you should respect each other in a relationship. To let them be a voice in their own community.”

Marroquin said that she was content with the number of people who attended Saturday’s event.

Martha Flores Rangel looks at a photo of her daughter Jolissa Rangel, a 20-year-old South Texas College student who was killed in 2013, which is placed among others who were lost or killed during the 5th Annual Young Hearts Matter Teen Dating Violence Prevention event at Mary Hoge Middle School on Saturday in Weslaco. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

“I love it. I’m so glad that everyone came,” Marroquin said. “I’m so happy with how many people were involved in this because it just means that it’s growing every year.”

Anyone who needs information regarding teen dating violence or domestic violence is encouraged to visit the DA’s office.

“The community can make a difference,” Ricardo Rodriguez said. “We have to be engaged in understanding what’s going on in our communities.”