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Conference teaches young girls to rule with confidence

Studies show one in three high school girls experience a controlling or abusive relationship. A free conference on Sunday is hoping to change that narrative.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Every year, hundreds of girls in central Ohio come together for a daylong event where they learn how to take a stand for themselves. 

I Matter 2023 is a community conference for over 300 teenage girls, girl moms and female mentors now in its 11th year.  It’s sponsored by ROX Ruling Our Experiences in partnership with Nationwide Children’s Hospital and The Center for Family Safety and Healing.

“It teaches about teen dating violence, and that is a topic that isn't talked about very much,” says Swathy Shankar, a former ROX attendee now in high school.

“I feel like it needs to be normalized [and] talked about because if we're not talking about it openly, then we're depriving so many girls of building that toolbox,” Shankar added. “They're not able to get that from their day-to-day life so where are they going to go to get this information?”

February is teen dating violence awareness month.. Studies show one in three high school girls experience a controlling or abusive relationship.  

Dr. Shekyra DeCree, the founder of Queenspace Counseling and Wellness, leads the ROX Institute for Research and Training.

“What we know at ROX is that girls need us now more than ever, girls need tools to feel safe, they need tools to feel protected in relationships. And with I Matter, we really want to help girls recognize the power that they have in protecting themselves and developing safe and healthy relationships,” DeCree says.

DeCree cited a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that showed one in five girls had experienced sexual violence in a relationship. The research also showed that 60% of girls reported feeling sad and hopeless, and 30% considered suicide. 

“It's not as if girls are a monolith,” DeCree explains. “Girls spanning different cultural backgrounds and different ethnicities, they have different lived experiences that count and this event will help amplify that.”

Shankar echoed that sentiment saying having adults participate in this event also builds a stronger bond with the younger tents.

“I feel like it's also hush hush like, ‘hey, let's not tell our parents, I'm scared, they're going to yell at me.’  But when we're having these events that welcome both sides of the spectrum, the adult also understands like the severity,” Shankar stated,

I Matter 2023 is Sunday, Feb. 26 at Nationwide Children’s Hospital-Education Center, located at 534 S. 18th Street.  The free event runs from noon to 4 p.m. 

Registration closes Thursday by end of the business day.

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