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Group empowers teens to fight violence, abuse

Peer network set up to help youths work together through crises

Posted: Monday, February 12, 2007

Though only 16, Ami McRae says she knows of far too many girls who have been physically or sexually assaulted in some way.

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She doesn't claim it's normal in Juneau, but the junior at Yaakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School says it does make a point. There are a lot of teens in the area that need help.

Today, an advocacy group for battered women will start a new peer-support group, Teens Resisting Abuse and Initiating Nonviolence. TRAIN is organized by the members of Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies.

AWARE members taught a group of teens to be advocates and counselors to peers at risk of being abused or those who already have been abused. The group has offered six of those teens jobs at a phone counseling line in March, to help teens in crisis.

"I never realized how many people need it and how many people use it (counseling) until I went into this training," McRae said.

Ati Nasiah, 26, a volunteer coordinator at AWARE, said the program will teach adolescents how to respond to violence in an appropriate manner.

"It's both prevention based and crisis intervention," Nasiah said. "The prevention aspect is through education and empowerment."

The classes mirror some of the training the teen mentors received.

"We're letting them know what's violent and what isn't," Nasiah said.

The training will identify situations that put someone at risk, clarify the gray areas about sexual assault, and try to get rid of a tendency that many rape victims have to blame themselves.

"When a a high school senior gets a freshman so drunk that she passes out so he can have sex with her, that's actually rape," Nasiah said. "We spend a lot of time listening, which itself is powerful, someone listening and being a witness."

Shelby Tersteeg, a 15-year-old freshman at Juneau-Douglas High School, was introduced to the peer-counseling program by her health teacher.

"The reason I did it was because I like helping people, and I thought it would make me better able to help people," she said. She knows people who have been through a lot, she added.

Tersteeg said the classes were packed with good information. She especially liked the classes about how to spot signs of an abusive boyfriend and conflict resolution.

"Conflict resolution is basically listening and trying to understand each other and then coming up with ways to fix the problem," Tersteeg said.

• Will Morris may be contacted at william.morris@juneauempire.com.



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