By Samantha Joseph
STUART -- When Soroptimist International of Stuart held an open discussion about violence among teenagers in abusive relationships, the response was bigger than they expected.
More than 75 people signed up to attend, and an equal number remained on its waiting list for a chance to be part of the conversation.
Now, for a second year, the civic group, whose mission is to improve women's lives, is hosting a discussion as part of "teen dating-violence awareness and prevention month."
"We became aware of the issue from our local domestic abuse center," said Sharon Kinane, chairwoman of the group's committee that promotes safe interaction among teens.
In fact it was Jill Borowicz, director of Safespace, a domestic violence shelter, who offered the suggestion. Ms. Borowicz, a former Soroptimist member, noticed a spike in cases of children suffering abuse at the hands of their dating partners.
Citing data from the Centers for Disease Control, collected from reporting agencies across the state, the group found 62 percent of children between ages 11 and 14 said they'd had friends who've suffered abuse from a partner. They also found that one in four children reported experiencing verbal, physical, emotional or sexual abuse from a partner.
Safespace officials told the group they've worked with about 1,200 children at risk for abuse by dating partners. That's why it created a program to bring the issue to the forefront.
At last year's event, which focused primarily on helping girls avoid unhealthy relationships, attendees suggested opening the forum to boys.
"A small percentage of the victims are boys," Ms. Kinane said. "And whenever we talk to experts on domestic violence, they always say that both men and women are part of the problem."
This year's event is called "Dating, Dodging and Ditching." It is set for 2 p.m. on Feb. 3 at StarStruck Theatre, located at 2101 S. Kanner Highway, Stuart.
Presenters will discuss healthy dating, signs of abusive relations and ways to get help. Attendees will also hear a first-hand account from a survivor of domestic violence.
Dr. Maria Elena Villar, a Florida International University representative who specializes in domestic violence, will be the keynote speaker. And local drama students will perform a skit on the issue.
The event is free of charge and open to the public, but online registration is required. To register, visit www.wersvp.com and log in under "Guests RSVP." Use "TeenDating" as the event ID and "2013" as the pin.
For more information, call (772) 486-4862.