CarlLa Horton was walking a few years ago when she noticed a man brandish a knife and approach another woman in an alley.
Horton made herself visible and the man fled into a car and drove off. Horton took down his license plate number, called the police and the description of the man, the size of knife and color of the blade’s handle all matched the description of a man who had committed 16 prior rapes.
“In my opinion, that’s at least 16 people’s lives this man destroyed,” Horton said. “Who knows how many other people had an opportunity to step in and say something that could’ve stopped him earlier.”
Stopping abusive relationships in any capacity has become a passion of sorts for Horton, who is the executive director for Hope’s Door, a non-profit shelter and counseling center working to end domestic violence through education and prevention methods. On Thursday, Horton was at White Plains High School, along with Westchester County Supervisor Rob Astorino, White Plains Mayor Tom Roach, other workers from Hope’s Door and a few students to acknowledge Teen Dating Abuse Prevention Month.
“It is never acceptable, ever, for an abusive relationship, and girls need to know that, especially when I saw the statistic that one out of every five teenage girls will be in abusive relationship,” Astorino said. “That’s astronomical, as far as I’m concerned. That is so unacceptable.”
Horton said that when Hope’s Door started in 1999, a study by Harvard University put the national average at one in five girls will be in a abusive relationship before graduating high school, from which one in four victims won’t tell anyone what happened to them, while one in four will tell a parent. Horton added that 66 percent of victims tell a friend.
“You read those numbers and you think that is in another part of the country,” Horton said. “You don’t think kids growing up in Westchester have those problems, but when we started looking everything up, Westchester fell right in line with the national averages.”
Horton added that since the organization has started, the numbers are turning around a bit. She said now about 41 percent of victims tell a parent, 84 percent tell a friend and 16 percent don’t tell anyone.
Part of that is thanks to the Students Terminating Abusive Relationships (STAR) Program, which gives students a peer to talk about about various issues, takes students and uses them as mentors to their peers on issues relating to abusive relationships and to promote respect in dating relationships. There are 11 STAR chapters in Westchester: Alexander Hamilton High School, Alexander Hamilton Middle School, Hendrick Hudson High School, Maria Regina High School, Rye High School, Westlake High School, White Plains High School, Children’s Village, Ossining High School, Yorktown High School and one in Pleasantville, which is at Hope’s Door officers for students at schools without a chapter.
“Programs such as these, that educate young people help in many ways,” Roach said. “Even if you don’t get to every single young person, you may get to one of the friends, so that when they’re talking about the issue, that friend says, ‘Hey, hold everything. Here’s what you need to do.’ I think that that’s essential.”
Astorino echoed those sentiments and said education needs to start early in children. He said while his children — an 9-year-old son and 8- and 3-year-old daughters — aren’t close to dating age, but even children that young should start learning.
“The education starts now,” he said. “The respect for each other starts now. What’s appropriate and inappropriate starts now at these ages, so by the time they get into high school and they are starting to date and they are starting to deal with relationship, they know the difference between right and wrong.”
Horton said Hope’s Door has three kinds of programs for students, including the STAR Program. The other two are classroom workshops and a once a year teen symposium.
The organization has grown quite a bit, as well. Dianne DeFilippis, assistant director for community services with Hope’s Door, said that in 1999 they worked with about 250 students and last year they worked with more than 10,130.
In addition to speaking out and education, Horton said parents can help prevent abusive relationships.
“If you are raising your children, the best thing you can do is model a relationship of respect for each other to your young children,” she said.
Horton said that one major issue with younger people in abusive relationships is realizing they’re in an abusive relationship. Some abusive traits many don’t realize are abusive, Horton said, including isolating the person from his or her family, checking in constantly, requiring permission to do simple things, ridiculous jealousy and others.
“It’s about power and control,” Horton said. “Some people just think, ‘Oh, he really loves me because he always wants to know where I am or doesn’t want anyone else to see me.’ It’s the kind of thing that can be confusing for grownups, so imagine how a young person must feel.”
Horton added if someone truly loves another person, they shouldn’t try to control or hold back that person.
“Love shouldn’t hurt,” she said. “Love should set you free to become the person you want to be.”
Anyone having any issues is asked to call the Hope’s Door hotline, which can reached at (888) 438-8700.