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Today's Family Magazine

Dating violence

By Deanna Adams

Did you know that there are 1.5 million high school students in the U.S. alone who experience abuse by dating partners each year?  That statistic includes one-third of all 10th-graders, with nearly the same amount being the perpetrators.  While this behavior affects all demographics: age, gender, race, occupation, education or income level, there is more risk for teens from low-income families, racial and ethnic groups, and LGBTQ students.

Abuse, be it physical, emotional, sexual, or digital, has become so prevalent in adolescence that it is now considered a public health problem because victims are more prone later to depression, anxiety, suicide, and substance abuse.

The first step in reducing those somber statistics is education.  Teaching young people about healthy relationships can reduce physical and sexual dating violence by 60 percent.  Learning how to prevent it, or handle the outcome, is something all teenagers, as well as parents and educators, need to know.

That’s why two professionals, Sensei Salvatore LaCorte, owner of North Coast Aikikai, and Gabriella Kreuz, founder of the organization, “Love Doesn’t Shove,” have made awareness of this issue their mission. Together they are hosting an interactive event, Assault Prevention and Dating Violence Workshop, which will take place at LaCorte’s martial arts studio in Mentor on Sunday, March 8 from 1–3 pm.

The workshop is open to all ages, although those under 18 must be accompanied by an adult.  LaCorte says the afternoon seminar is designed to not only address the problem itself, but to get attendees involved in knowing how to prevent and deflect the problem.

“The event will be split into two phases,” LaCorte explains.  “First, Gabriella will discuss her mission behind Love Doesn’t Shove and how to recognize warning signs of abuse.  She’ll talk about dating issues and address situations that get out of hand and how to deal with them. Then I’ll show a few short videos to demonstrate certain situations, and follow up by giving hands-on self-protection points.”

The three core points that LaCorte always addresses in his classes are:
1) Avoid
2) Control
3) Escape

“The idea is not to harm, but to neutralize the situation,” adds LaCorte, who gives classes for students ages 8 to 70.  “The thing is, if you can’t avoid a confrontation, then you need to learn how to take control of the situation, and then, if you can’t do that, you need to know how to escape.  Many times you won’t need to use steps two and three, but you’ll know what to do in all cases.”

Kreuz’s talk will emphasize a healthy relationship—what it is, and what it isn’t.  “I’ll be deep-diving into the various aspects of abuse,” she says.  “The physical, of course, but also the emotional and sexual impact, and we’ll have an interactive conversation about it.”

The issue is close to Kreuz’s heart because she knows about it first-hand.  “My personal experience was the springboard that led to my advocacy.  I had a boyfriend in high school and it quickly became a very unhealthy relationship.  When there was a physical altercation in school, I was fortunate to have found myself surrounded by a lot of supportive people, including school officials.  He was a charming young man so prior to that, I was afraid no one would believe me about his behavior.”

She wants people to understand the dynamics that often accompany dating violence and abuse.  There is a cycle that often includes four stages: honeymoon, tension building, outburst, and apology.  Many stay in a dangerous relationship because the apology stage gives them hope that the abuser will change.  “Some people assume that it’s just common sense not to stay with someone who abuses, but there are many factors that play into it.  Everyone comes from different backgrounds, personal experiences, and thought processes.”

LaCorte has been teaching Aikido, a martial art form that emphasizes defense, not offensive tactics, for 40 years.  His Mentor school is now in its 6th year.  Kreuz’s “Love Doesn’t Shove” began as a fundraiser in 2014 and became a nonprofit organization in 2016.

“The most important thing I want people to realize is that abuse is not just a woman’s issue,” says Kreuz, who gives more than 50 school presentations a year.  “This is not a political movement, it can affect men, too.  And teens are especially vulnerable because their brains are still developing and they have little life experience to know how to deal with it, or even talk openly about it. So this kind of knowledge can truly be a lifesaver.”

To register for the Assault Prevention and Dating Violence Workshop, call (440) 622-6485, or visit  Cost for both seminars is $25 per person.  Attendees are asked to wear loose clothing, bring athletic under support and a face towel.