Winter 2009: Of Note

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Tough Love

The Jane Fonda Center helps teens build healthy, respectful relationships

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By Mary J. Loftus

The couple has been dating for almost a year. Sometimes he slaps her when he gets angry. When he picks her up in his car after school, he demands to know the names of the classmates she was talking to. He tells her he is the only one who really loves her—not her parents, not her friends. He is sixteen, she is fourteen.

According to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in five teens reports being physically or sexually abused by a boyfriend or girlfriend. The Jane Fonda Center for Adolescent Reproductive Health of Emory, housed at the Briarcliff Campus, has been selected to receive up to $1 million from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to reduce intimate partner violence through early prevention. The center is one of eleven organizations in the country receiving funding for the Start Strong: Building Healthy Teen Relationships program, which will also involve local collaborators such as the Teen Services Program at Grady Hospital and Atlanta Public Schools.

Jane Fonda

Jane Fonda

Annemarie Poyo

The target population is the nearly ten thousand middle-schoolers in the Atlanta district. About 86 percent are African American and 75 percent are low income. The local program, Celebration, will also reach out to parents, teachers, mentors, and community groups.

“Interpersonal relationship skills are not automatic—they are learned,” says Melissa Kottke, assistant professor of gynecology and obstetrics and director of the Jane Fonda Center. “By highlighting positive qualities such as self-respect and respect for others, along with effective communication skills and personal responsibility, we hope to foster an environment where teenage dating violence and abuse is not practiced and is not accepted.”

Intimate partner violence is one of the nation’s most serious public health problems, says James Marks, director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Group. The Celebration program includes educating middle-school students on how to better understand and manage their sexual feelings and behaviors in healthy, positive ways.

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