What is Dating Abuse?
Dating abuse is an intentional pattern of behavior used to gain power and control over someone you are or were dating. There are different types of abuse, including physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, financial, cyber/digital, and cultural/religious. Dating abuse can affect anyone – in relationships of all ages, regardless of race, religion, culture, sexuality, or socioeconomic status – and both males and females can be victims or abusive partners in opposite-sex or same-sex relationships.
How Prevalent is Dating Violence in the Tween Years?
Nearly half of all tweens in relationships (47%) say they know friends who have been verbally abused (called stupid, worthless, ugly, etc.) by a boyfriend/girlfriend. And more than a third of tweens in relationships (36%) know friends and peers their age who have been pressured by a boyfriend/girlfriend to do things they didn’t want to do. 
Why MSP is Doing Something About Dating Violence in the Tween Years
MSP’s Domestic Violence Education and Prevention (DVEP) Program has been talking to tweens for some time about healthy friendships. We started to see the students in these presentations be increasingly curious about dating relationships as well as friendships. We wanted to find a way to bring information and skills to this age group, so we created the REAL program.
The Relationships, Empowerment, and Leadership (REAL) Program for Tweens
MSP’s DVEP Program created the Relationships, Empowerment, and Leadership (REAL) Program in response to increasingly younger dating and dating abuse patterns. REAL is an 8-12 session Healthy Relationships, anti-dating abuse, program for youth 11-14. The program is offered for free in schools, community based organizations, or community groups for groups as small as 5 and as large as 24 (the average class size). The program is highly interactive and uses a variety of styles including discussion, group work, media engagement, and others. We introduce concepts of healthy relationships components (DVEP’s signature “Respect, Equality, and Safety”), personal boundaries, communication approaches, conflict in relationships, sexual harassment, the warning signs and patterns of dating abuse, ways to help those affected by abuse, how to recognize helpful adults, and leadership skills.
REAL also provides training and education for parents, teachers, and other adults who work with the youth in the program. Through training, we encourage and support other adults’ conversations with tweens about healthy relationships and dating abuse.