Social Work professors teach healthy relationships in teen dating violence research study with Karen refugees

Saturday, Jan 28, 2017

Two UTA social work professors are working with a vastly under-researched set of refugees, the Karen from Burma, teaching the teens about healthy relationships in an effort to prevent dating violence in this population.

Associate professor Diane Mitschke, director of the School of Social Work’s master’s program, and Beverly Black, Jillian Michelle Smith Professor in Family Violence Research and director of the Ph.D. program, recently recruited Karen teenagers ages 14-19 for their project, “Addressing Teen Dating Violence in Refugees from Burma,” at the annual celebration of the Karen New Year in Dallas on Saturday, Jan. 28.

“There is no research on dating violence in this community,” Dr. Black said. “The Karen are the largest group of Burmese refugees in the U.S.”

Teen dating violence is physical, sexual, psychological or emotional violence in relationships. It can also include stalking and can happen in person or electronically.

The educational program, Safe Dates, teaches teenagers about caring relationships and abuse, reasons for abuse, warning signs of abuse, and why people don’t leave abusive relationships.  Teens also learn practical ways to help friends in abusive relationships and learn about community resources for dating abuse.

The educational workshops are held at the Agape Clinic in Dallas, where Mitschke runs the social service and case management arm of the free medical clinic for Karen refugees every Sunday.

“One of the unique aspects of this project is that we’ve recruited a group of six Karen youth to serve as peer leaders,” said Dr. Mitschke.  “These youth help to get the word out to the community about the study and have also been trained to deliver parts of the educational workshops.”

The peer leaders have been working together with the research team to create an intervention that works for Karen youth, said graduate research assistant Katelyn Pearson, a master’s student who is studying Community and Administrative Practice at UTA’s School of Social Work.

Doctoral student Kristen Ravi, who is focusing on intimate partner violence for her degree, said she was surprised by some of the initial discussions with the youth.  For example, Karen youth placed a high value on their parents’ opinions of their dating partners.

Educational workshops for Karen youth will continue through the spring. The results of this study will provide a foundation for teen dating violence education and intervention research among resettled Karen youth in refugee communities across the United States.

The project was funded through the School of Social Work’s Innovative Community Academic Partnership Program (iCAP), which aims to inspire community and academic partnerships that promote social and economic justice among vulnerable populations.