Standing Up Against Teen Dating Violence

February 4, 2010

It's never too early to talk about violence in young relationships.

That was the message driven home by Assemblyman Michael Cusick and a small team of collaborators yesterday, announcing a resolution to recognize this week as Teen Dating Violence Awareness Week in New York State.

Cusick also said his team would draft legislation to put a new curriculum in schools statewide, in the hopes of preventing domestic violence among young people and raising the profile of what he called a national problem.

"We are now going to come together to put forward teen dating violence legislation," said Cusick (D-Mid-Island), "to educate our students, but educate adults also, about this growing issue."

Standing in his ground-level office on Richmond Avenue, Cusick was flanked by education advocate Joan McKeever-Thomas, 13th Judicial District board of regents member Dr. Christine Cea, and Dina Tush, whose daughter Jessica Tush was murdered in 2008 by ex-boyfriend Thomas Paolino. The Tottenville man was sentenced in September to 23 1/2 years in prison.

"This is what is going to save our children from the nightmares we've gone through in my family," said Mrs. Tush, of Great Kills. "If I had an inkling of what was going on, I could have at least tried to do something about it."

Cusick's state legislature resolution, which he said would be introduced today, mirrors a national senate resolution designating February 2010 as National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. Mrs. Tush spoke about other states, like Ohio and Rhode Island that use domestic violence awareness curriculums in health class, citing fashion designer Liz Claiborne's "Love Is Not Abuse" foundation and curriculum for teens as an example.

"We don't want kids to feel isolated," said Cusick, "and often that is what abusers do, is make their victims feel isolated and unable to reach out for help. Kids need to be made comfortable in approaching their parents; they have to know there is a support group there for him."

Listing statistics that say one in three female teenagers have feared for their physical safety in a dating relationship, the group said they hoped to finish drafting a legislation that would require schools to start early in making young people aware of the dangers of domestic violence, and encouraging them to speak up.

"I was just taken aback by Dina's story," said Dr. Cea. "If we can save even one family from this kind of tragedy, it will be well-worth our while."

Noting that newer technologies like texting and social media sites are allowing oppressive and emotionally abusive relationships to go unnoticed or unchecked, the group also stressed the need for educating adults. Mrs. Tush said that after her daughter was strangled and fatally stabbed, coworkers and friends of Jessica told her that Paolino had been harassing her daughter with text messages from his car, parked down the block from their home.

"I think parents right now don't even know what they don't know about this issue," said Ms. McKeever-Thomas, chairperson of a group called 31 I.D.E.A.L., or Information Dealing with Education And Learning. "We need a prequel of some sort that starts with raising issues of self-esteem and respect, even before high school."