El Paso County launches anti-domestic violence campaign



A new initiative introduced Friday by county officials is aimed at reducing domestic and dating violence among adults and teens.

During a news conference Friday morning, District Attorney Jaime Esparza and County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal unveiled the "¡No Te Dejes! Don't Let Yourself" program, which is funded by an $80,000 grant from Gov. Rick Perry's Criminal Justice Department.

Officials with the county and district attorneys' offices will begin scheduling presentations at schools on March 1 to talk about dating violence.

"Trying to address the issue (of dating and domestic violence) is very important to the both of us," Esparza said during the news conference.

As part of the initiative, officials are distributing a 16-minute video produced by a local company, MindWarp Entertainment, that depicts the fictional story of teenager Natalie Rivera, who becomes a victim of dating violence.

Esparza said that according to national statistics, about one in three high-school students has been or will be involved in an abusive relationship, and 40 percent of teenage girls ages 14 to 17 say they know someone their age who has been hit or beaten by a partner.

Esparza said El Paso's statistics are on par with national trends.

In the 16-minute movie geared to teens, Natalie suffers physical and emotional abuse by her boyfriend Alex. At the end, Natalie is seen on the verge of talking to a school counselor about the abuse, but the movie stops abruptly.

Esparza said the ending was intentional to create a dialogue among students about their own experiences.

Bernal added, "We need to start a community conversation about appropriate and healthy relationships."

Both Esparza and Bernal said that since 2007, Texas law has mandated that school districts implement policies against dating violence. However, Bernal said, officials have noticed discrepancies among school districts as to how the policies are written and enforced.

Pauline Dow, associate superintendent of academics for the Ysleta Independent School District, said she hopes the initiative will help get rid of those discrepancies.

"This project will help to reinforce the work that we're doing," Dow said during the news conference. "The important part is this is an authentic way to engage young people."

Adriana M. Chávez may be reached at achavez@elpasotimes.com; 546-6117.

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