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Proclamation targets dating violence

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Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has declared Feb. 5-10 Dating Violence Prevention Week.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has declared Feb. 5-10 Dating Violence Prevention Week.

Keith Johnson, Deseret Morning News

Heidi Searle is confident, engaging and attractive, with a beautiful smile.

If you can work up the courage to go over and talk to her, she'd tell you she's really shy — and a victim of dating violence.

"I attracted those kinds of guys," she said. "They made me feel like I was nothing."

Searle is among the one in five young women believed to be a victim of dating violence. She lent her voice to a campaign to increase awareness in high schools across Utah about dating violence, singing a song she wrote, titled "He Loved Me Not."

On Wednesday, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. signed a proclamation declaring Feb. 5-10 "Dating Violence Prevention Week."

"Dating violence is one of the fastest growing and most serious violent crimes in Utah today," the governor said as he signed the proclamation.

It's also one of the most underreported, victim advocates claim.

The Governor's Office on Violence Against Women and Families offers some sobering statistics: One in five high school girls has been abused by a dating partner, and 40 percent of teenage girls between 14-16 know someone their age who has been hit by a boyfriend.

"I can talk to all of my friends, and they've gone through one," Searle said. "My sister had some problems with guys, also. It really needs to be talked about."

Sandy police officer Ben Derrick sees signs of dating violence in the hallways at Valley High School. A few months ago, he said he broke up a fight between a teenager and his girlfriend.

"He was screaming at her. He had jealousy issues," Derrick said. "It was a little concerning."

Derrick said dating violence cuts across all boundaries — wealth, race, gender — and affects everyone. He said boys who become abusers tend to get physical. Girls, Derrick said, manipulate their boyfriends mentally and emotionally.

"Girls have said, 'You're the reason I throw up,' or 'I'll kill myself without you,"' he said.

Searle said those she dated in high school never hit her but certainly knew how to push the right buttons to trash her self-esteem.

"They'd belittle me a lot, make me feel stupid," she said. "I went home crying every night after a date."

Advocates hope by increasing the awareness of dating violence they will empower teens to prevent it. For the most serious cases, new legislation is being debated in the Legislature to expand protective orders to include dating relationships.

"We really need HB28," said Alissa Black, a victim advocate for the Murray Police Department.

Right now, the bill has passed the Utah House and is working its way through the Senate.

Searle said she finally hit the bottom and began taking control of her life.

"Stand up and have confidence in yourself," she said. "I don't have to go through this. I control my life."

E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com