A Publication of WTVP

A new grant from the Community Foundation of Central Illinois’ Women’s Fund will support the Helping All Relationships To be Safe (HARTS) program—an initiative of The Center for Prevention of Abuse which aims to empower young girls to develop healthy relationships.

Prevention education programs at The Center reach more than 30,000 students each year in the Tri-County area on topics such as empathy, social and emotional learning, anti-bullying, teen dating violence and sexual abuse prevention. HARTS focuses on providing girls ages 13 to 17 with the tools needed to communicate effectively and assertively, make positive choices, and establish strong boundaries to prevent dating violence as they learn practical methods for keeping themselves safe.

Intimate partner violence involves one partner exerting power and control over the other, and can take the form of physical, emotional, verbal, financial or sexual abuse. Young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence—nearly triple the national average. Most teens do not report incidents of abuse because they’re afraid to tell anyone, or because they view the behavior as normal (violent and controlling behavior is often learned and repeated when witnessed at home).

Executive Director Carol Merna emphasizes the wider impact of showing teens how to develop healthy relationships. “It is imperative that we communicate a thoughtful, age-appropriate, evidence-based education about empathy, respect and social awareness as early as possible,” she explains. “Ultimately, we want young people to have a safe place to learn and a peaceful place to live.”

The program was shared with 155 participants last year, and nearly all reported an increased understanding of healthy relationships. The Center offers a similar program for boys called Mind Over Muscle, and it is piloting a gender-neutral program on healthy relationships for small groups of high school students. It hopes to expand its outreach capacities to meet the continually increasing demand for services and shorten the length of its waiting list. “We are always seeking other partnerships to help grow these crucial services in an effort to reach as many people as possible,” adds Merna. The grant from the Women’s Fund will support the HARTS program through November 2018.

For more information about intimate partner violence and available services, visit