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SYLMAR : Play Urges Girls to Break Out of Vicious Cycle

The play--dealing with the sensitive issues of domestic violence, sexual abuse and drug addiction--had none of the finer features of a Broadway production. Ultimately, it didn’t matter that the bare-bones production featured few props and an unpredictable sound system. The play made its point with the audience, who had been there, done that.

About 700 people--mostly troubled teen-age girls but also some boys, counselors and social service providers--watched the play, one of the highlights of the second annual Woman to Woman conference, held last week at Mission College’s Campus Center.

The purpose of the conference was to encourage girls who have been pregnant, abused or affiliated with a gang to turn around their lives. The event offered up a medley of inspirational speeches, a prayer and entertainment.

In addition to listening to female role models such as writer-producer Dwan Smith-Fortier and domestic-violence-shelter director Bernita Walker-Moss, the girls also had a chance to speak through, and learn from, their own voices.

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For example, the play, “Breaking the Cycle of Abuse,” features a vignette in which actors depict students in a youth group discussing the problems--and solutions--facing today’s teen-agers.

"(Authority figures) need to teach us how to act, instead of just punishing us,” said a teen-age boy, whose comments drew applause. “How do they expect us to respect them when they don’t respect us in return?”

As part of the vignette, Pauline Cortez, 18, recounted her actual experiences of abuse at the hands of her stepfather, being forced to leave home and raise a 10-month-old baby by herself.

“I realized that education was the key to my success and happiness,” said Cortez, who graduated in June from Los Angeles County’s Independent Study Program.

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In the play, participation in the youth group turns out to be part of the recovery process for the central character, Wendy, who is emotionally and sexually abused by her father and physically abused by her mother. She also finds solace in talking about the abuse with a counselor, who urges her not to blame herself.

The event, which drew twice as many people as last year’s conference, was sponsored by the Los Angeles County Office of Education’s Division of Alternative Education and the county Probation Department.

Those attending the conference said it helped them to see that they were not alone in their plight, and inspired them to deal with their problems.

One 16-year-old girl, who attends a San Fernando school for pregnant teen-agers, said the conference reminded her of the importance of self-reliance.

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"(Before) I felt like I wanted a change but I didn’t really care,” said the teen-ager, who is eight months pregnant by a former boyfriend. “I thought my parents were going to take care of things for me. Now I’m thinking that I have to take care not only of myself, but also somebody else.”


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