Insight: Q&A with Community Resource Center CEO on Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

The Community Resource Center is located in Encinitas.

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, calling attention to the signs and symptoms as well as how to promote safe, healthy relationships.

John Van Cleef, CEO of the Encinitas-based nonprofit Community Resource Center, recently discussed tips for dealing with teen dating violence and what to know about it in a Q&A. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and conciseness.

Q: How do you define teen dating violence and what should people know about it?

Van Cleef: February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. Teen dating violence by description is a pattern of violent, coercive, manipulative behaviors by a partner or an ex that seek to gain power and maintain the control in a relationship. It can happen in-person, online. It can include physical, sexual, emotion, verbal abuse, stalking. Anything where the person experiencing that violence feels unsafe and insecure as a result of another person’s behavior and pursuit.

Q: Are teens usually aware if they are being victimized, or is it sometimes harder for them to consciously realize that they’re on the receiving end of that kind of abuse behavior?

Van Cleef: I think it really depends upon the individual teen and their experience and their own self-awareness, and also the person creating the harm. Some people are very effective manipulators and create scenarios and situations where they begin to isolate and exclude and draw somebody away from their normal patterns. And there are other people who may experience it in a party setting, and someone comes on super strong or they have an argument and all of a sudden they find themselves being yelled at, or their arms grabbed, those kind of things. There are a variety of ways in which it will manifest itself and a variety of timeframes over which it will occur.

Q: What are parents, teachers or other adults likely to notice when they interact with a teen who has been dealing with dating violence?

Van Cleef: For parents, for teachers, coaches, friends who know a person, if they start to witness extreme changes of behavior — withdrawal, depression, how they eat, how they sleep — any kind of extreme behavior that is out of the norm is usually a good indication that something is going on with the teen. It could be something else that’s happening in their life — we’re all more aware of mental health and behavioral health issues, especially out of the pandemic. And it could be that they’ve experienced some kind of violence or intimate partner harm as well.

Q: What kind of work has the Community Resource Center been doing to address teen dating violence?

Van Cleef: We want to prevent intimate partner violence and domestic violence that occurs among adults before it starts. This is why teen dating violence awareness and prevention is important. By and large, abuse is a learned behavior. CRC has several programs with our domestic violence education prevention program. We offer healthy relationship classes, we have trainings and classes that we do in local junior and senior high schools, we have trainings that take place with parents and teachers, there are support groups, we participate in the San Diego teen dating violence committee. And I think one of the hallmarks of our program, especially as we work with teens, is we really engage teens with peer-based leadership groups. It’s a train the trainer scenario where our educators will work with a group of teen leaders who will go to different classroom settings to make their peers aware of teen dating violence.

The whole goal of all of these programs is to teach teens about safe dating and good relationship behaviors, and also to support teachers and parents in helping them be aware of teen dating violence and how they can be part of the solution in preventing it from happening.

Q: Is there anything else people should be aware of?

Van Cleef: I think it’s important as a man and as a dad to call out the fact that most abusers are men. I think men have an important opportunity and an important responsibility — male teachers, male coaches, influencers with young people — to speak up, to teach young men about appropriate behavior. It affects everybody and it’s important for men to be a part of creating the solution so our young men can grow up to have healthy, meaningful relationships.

For more information visit the Community Resource Center’s website at The CRC’s free, 24-hour domestic crisis hotline is 1-877-633-1112.