The story of Teen Dating Violence Month (and how Austin has been a leader)

Written by Shannon Sandrea
Image description: A photo of a room full of teens practicing a dance routine.

For years, young people in Austin and across the nation have organized to prevent dating abuse and educate communities. Spearheaded by teenagers, the Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention initiative has become a nationwide movement.

In 2010, Congress declared the month of February National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month in—thanks largely to the efforts initiated in 2004 by the American Bar Association. The call to end teen dating violence was formally recognized in 2006 and 2007 when both Houses of Congress declared the first week in February National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Week.

As part of the American Bar Association’s work, several adults and a teen from each state gathered together in Washington, D.C. to inform the work. Teens led the movement. One of those teens was an Austinite named RaeAnne Spence, who was in my support group when I was an Expect Respect Counselor.

Image description: A photo of lawmakers signing HB 121, which mandates that Texas school districts adopt and implement a dating violence policy.

Image description: A photo of lawmakers signing HB 121, which mandates that Texas school districts adopt and implement a dating violence policy.

She and I were both invited to represent Team Texas. RaeAnne emerged as the movement’s national speaker after she shared her experiences of teen dating violence while she was in eight and ninth grade. With the support of her mother, her Expect Respect counselor, and several other advocates from organizations throughout Texas, RaeAnne shared her story with a national audience of influential people in Washington, D.C.

“The Expect Respect program, was a life saver for me at that time,” RaeAnne said. “It allowed me an outlet to be able to talk and meet other people who were in similar situations, showing me that I was not alone in what I had been through. I learned ways to process my emotions, and what a ‘normal’ and ‘good’ relationship should look like. Helping with the creation of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month was an honor to be a part of and to speak for.”

On the national stage, RaeAnne talked about her own relationship with her classmate, which had become increasingly scary, causing her to eventually change schools for her safety. In 2003, she was able to leave the violent relationship. However, the next year, the same student who had been violent with RaeAnne went on to murder his next girlfriend, 15-year-old Ortralla Mosely, at school.

Ortralla’s mother, Carolyn Mosley, joined forces with Ortralla’s friends, RaeAnne Spence, and the community of teens and adults working to end domestic violence. Carolyn Mosley was a force who held the community accountable, and rightly so. She also brought people together with her love. Carolyn Mosley remains a strong advocate today.

Image description: A photo of teens in the Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble during a live performance on stage.

Image description: A photo of teens in the Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble during a live performance on stage.

Sadly, during the first Teen Dating Violence Awareness month in 2006, Austin resident Jennifer Ann Crecente was killed by her teen ex-boyfriend. Jennifer was 18 years old at the time.

The Austin community was shaken again. After this tragedy, Jennifer’s mother, Elizabeth Crecente, joined the growing movement of advocates and survivors in the work to prevent teen dating violence. Elizabeth Crecente became a sought after speaker and prevention advocate.

Because of these brave women and countless advocates in Texas, communities everywhere have learned how so many warning signs were missed, the many touchpoints where safety planning could have made a difference, and the growing number of supports available to all communities

Image description: A photo teens in a crowd during a performance.

Image description: A photo of teens in a crowd during a live performance.

“The ability to raise a voice about what dating violence is and why awareness of a seldom talked about issue is important helped in many ways heal my own previous traumas,” RaeAnne said. “Many lives have been impacted as a result of this! We went from a time when no one talked about dating violence to present day where support is available and safe places exist, in part because of the groundwork Expect Respect laid out and continues to grow. My life was greatly impacted by what happened in my situation, but it has all been worth it to have so many come together and stand up for awareness and change…it reinforces the fact that nobody has to be alone in these situations.”

The Timeline of National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention

  • In 2005, teens and their adult allies achieved a major victory when teen dating abuse was highlighted in the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
  • In 2006, National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Week was declared to be the first week in February.
  • In 2006, SAFE’s Expect Respect program staff Shannon Sandrea, Zell Miller, III alongside Bronwyn Blake from the Texas Advocacy Project created space for teens to design the first Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month kick-off event, “Voices Erupt! Riot the Silence to End Dating Violence.”
  • In 2007, the National Teen Dating Violence Hotline was established by The National Domestic Violence Hotline (The Hotline). The Hotline established Love is Respect, an initiative that engages, educates, and empowers youth in a safe, inclusive space where they can access information in an environment designed specifically for them.
  • In 2007, Texas HB 121 was passed mandating schools to adopt and implement a dating violence policy. Carolyn Mosley, Elizabeth Crecente, Ortralla’s and Jennifer’s friends, as well as RaeAnne Spence all testified in order to help this bill pass.
  • In 2010, Congress declared the entire month of February to be National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month.

A note from the author, Expect Respect Senior Director Shannon Sandrea: I would like to dedicate this blog to the memories of Jennifer Ann Crecente and Ortralla Mosely and to RaeAnne Spence, Carolyn Mosley, and Elizabeth Crecente. In addition, I would like to thank all of the young people who stepped forward to educate our community, Ortralla’s and Jennifer’s friends, in particular.