Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month: Alina’s Light

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"Domestic violence doesn't discriminate, it can happen to anyone."

CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WMBD) — Globally, one in three teenagers has experienced, is experiencing, or will experience dating violence before their 18th birthday, according to the Center for Prevention of Abuse.

For one mother, Elly Sheykhet, that statistic hits too close to home.

“We found our daughter in a pool of her own blood,” Sheykhet said.

Sheykhet’s daughter, Alina, started dating someone when she 17 years old. That someone is now in prison and convicted for her murder. Alina was 20.

“We came over, everyone was sleeping, so my husband had to break the door into her bedroom because it was locked from inside,” Sheykhet said. “And we found her. We found her and her face was unrecognizable. It was just horrible. To say I was devastated is to say nothing.”

Alina had previously filed an order of protection against her ex-boyfriend, which he violated. Sheykhet said that in hindsight, the Protection from Abuse (PFA) that Alina had filed was just a piece of paper.

Sheykhet started Alina’s Light, an organization that fights to raise awareness about domestic violence and also pushes for Alina’s Law to be passed in Pennsylvania.

Sheykhet also published a book in 2020 about her experience of grief after her daughter’s death.

“Alina was 20 years old. She was a bright, beautiful person,” Sheykhet said. “Intelligent, funny; she was hilarious. You would never forget her contagious laugh. She always had a bright smile on her face.”

Although Alina was killed in Pittsburgh, her story resonates here in Central Illinois, which is home to the Center for Prevention of Abuse.

Laura Kowalske, Director of Prevention Education at the Center for Prevention of Abuse, said that teen dating violence is more common than we may realize.

“Teen dating violence is a phenomenon that happens all over the nation; in fact, all over the globe,” Kowalske said. “We know statistically that one in three teens has, is, or will experience teen dating violence sometime before their 18th birthday. Which is really a staggering statistic. In fact, it equates to one and a half million high schoolers who experience it annually.”

The Center works with the community to educate young people about dating and domestic violence. Kowalske said they try to educate teens to prevent abuse before it starts.

She acknowledged that it can be very frustrating and scary for a parent to see their teenage child in an unhealthy relationship, but it is crucial to look out for warning signs. Kowalske pointed out five red flags: jealousy or possessiveness, a change in clothing or appearance, excessive “checking in” or contact, lack of involvement in regular activities, and isolation.

“It is true that the most dangerous time in an abusive dating relationship is that time when the victim chooses and makes that decision to leave the relationship,” Kowalske said. “And so, when we’re talking to teens about abusive relationships and making that choice to leave, we’re really trying to empower them with all the tools that they need to be able to do that safely.”

Kowalske said she recommends creating a safety plan with oneself or a loved one that may be going through an unhealthy or abusive relationship.

“Many times bystanders, family members, those that are involved in the circle of the person being abused, can help by creating a safety plan… being a person that that individual can rely on to help them in times of need,” Kowalske said. “Helping them think through scenarios and how they would react in those scenarios in a safe way to get themselves out of the situation and out of harm’s way.”

Another organization in Central Illinois that works to educate middle and high schoolers is the Hult Center for Healthy Living. For them, education about healthy relationships is incorporated into their “Comprehensive Sexual Health Education.”

“A lot of the awareness we want to bring to young people about teen dating violence is really just being able to determine if a partner is treating you in a healthy way, but also if your own behaviors and actions in a relationship might be considered healthy or unhealthy,” said Becca Mathis, Adolescent Health Coordinator at the Hult Center.

Kowalske said if someone is in fear of their own safety or fearing for the safety of a loved one, it is time to seek help. She said it is crucial to empower a victim of dating violence.

“Because power and control has been taken away from them, by the abuser, as a bystander or a family member, we don’t want to be another person that tells them what to do or takes their power and control over a situation away from them,” Kowalske said.

Alina’s Light is working to educate the community of Pittsburgh about domestic violence and teen dating violence, much like the Center for Prevention of Abuse does here in Central Illinois.

Those with a loved one who is facing an unhealthy relationship are encouraged to call the crisis hotline at 1 (800) 559- SAFE (7233).

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