Indianapolis Public Schools leads nation battling teen dating violence

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — You likely won’t believe this, but the CDC estimates more than a third of the 10th grade kids in America have experienced dating violence.

Now IPS has a program viewed as a national model to help.

"I saw someone push their girlfriend very hard," Zariah Townsend reads. "I saw someone cry because they were being mistreated."

This is high school.

Zariah continues reading, "And out of nowhere I heard a girl crying while her boyfriend was calling her the 'b word'"

"I really felt sad. I didn’t know if I wanted to cry with her. But then I knew I needed to be the support for her. So I just put my arm around her," she said looking back.

"I think y’all would be surprised, hurt, sad," she said softly.

Zariah is a senior at George Washington High School on Indy’s near west side and a teen dating abuse advocate.

"And I see it, and I just want to help," she said.

A federal study estimates every year 1.5 million high school kids experience physical dating violence.

It's a problem so common, last year IPS expanded its teen dating and abuse program district wide, placing student advocates in all high schools and middle schools and soon kindergarten through 5th grade.

"This is something that is happening frequently. It is happening frequently in our schools. It’s happening frequently in our community. And it is happening on social media. So it is everywhere around us," said Sherri Barrow.

Barrow leads the teen dating abuse program at George Washington, a system set up discover cases that otherwise go unnoticed and unreported.

"They’re coming to me about name calling. They’re coming to me about social media posts," she recounted.

But now, students like Zariah reach out so victims can confidentially get help, connecting with trained school staff to address the abuse and get the victim and abuser educated.

Zariah warned, "It can get bad like trying to kill you or 'You leave me you gotta die, nobody else can have you.' So I just don’t want it to be that bad."

Unfortunately, in Zariah’s case, no one she’s connected with has come forward to get help. But the advocates that’s even more reason they need to be there, to encourage and assist victims until they are ready to escape.

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