February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, which calls for action in educating teens and adolescents on what healthy relationships are, as well as how to recognize and react to unhealthy relationships. According to a 2011 CDC nationwide survey, it was found that 23% of females and 14% of males who experienced rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner, first experienced some form of partner violence between 11 and 17 years of age.
The CDC defines teen dating violence as physical, sexual, psychological or emotional violence within a dating relationship. Unfortunately, 1 in 3 teens will experience physical, emotional and or sexual abuse at the hand of someone they are romantically involved with. If these relationship behaviors go unchanged, they can progress into adulthood and serious consequences can arise.
It is vital to recognize signs of abuse and question the scenarios: was that kiss by the locker a sign of affection, or a statement of ownership? Was walking down the hallway holding hands a choice or an act of control to isolate the victim? The constant streams of text messages –“where are you? What are you doing?” — Is that a simple query or the need to be in control? These are all seemingly innocent behaviors and gestures, however these could also be telltale signs of an abusive relationship. It is important for teens to know the difference and speak up.
Young teens are especially vulnerable to the unique forms abuse can take online and in schools, making it imperative to let teens in our community know that if they or someone they know is involved in an abusive relationship, there is help nearby. Like all victims, teens need to know they are not alone, it is not their fault, and A Woman’s Place will be here for them just as it is for adults in our community. Beyond support for victims, education is key to preventing teen dating violence. Teens must understand how to set healthy boundaries with partners and know what to do if these boundaries are crossed. If we teach our teens the signs of unhealthy relationships, it can prevent future abuse, make a drastic change in those teens that are suffering from dating violence and could ultimately save lives.
A Woman’s Place works with adolescents and teens as well as parents regularly throughout the year in our prevention programs which provide accessible and detailed training on what it means to have a healthy relationship. Domestic violence is one size fits all. It does not discriminate and it can happen to anyone, regardless of age. That is why it is so important to educate our teens about this pressing issue and February Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month is the perfect time to start talking.
– Lucy Watt AWP Intern