Teen Dating Violence: A Frightening Trend
Violence Isn't Love
I remember teaching a class one time at an adult learning centre, and we got into a conversation about relationship violence. One woman, I think in her early 20s, piped up that she could run her mouth a fair bit, and if she had it coming, she wouldn't be surprised to get a smack in the mouth.
It damn near broke my heart to hear that. Any sort of abuse, whether verbal, physical or sexual, should never be excused or justified. I found myself thinking about that incident today, when I was reminded that February was Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.
Just hearing that it was Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month made my stomach flip a little. The very fact that there's a need to have awareness raised about teen dating violence speaks volumes about society, to a certain extent, and made me already concerned about any relationships my daughters might enter into in the very near future. One is in her preteen years, already, so teen dating is definitely on her horizon.
So I did some research, as I often do when I'm confronted with something that I really don't know too much about. According to the Centres for Disease Control (CDC), a recent national survey said that 1 in 10 teens admitted their boyfriend or girlfriend hit them at some point in the 12 months prior to the survey. That same number admitted that they had been touched, kissed or forced into sexual intercourse when they didn't want to at least once in the year prior to the survey.
Other agencies report that this figure could be as high as 1 in 3 teens, and that is deeply troubling. Neither partner is in no way obligated to submit to any sort of physical or sexual touching; they should not be made to feel that it is something that is "owed" to the other partner, and the fact that many teens submit simply as a result of a sense of duty is abhorrent.
According to www.loveisrespect.org, only about a third of teens who have been victims of dating violence actually report it, and over 80 percent of parents aren't aware that it's an issue in the first place.
Even worse, those who are victims of dating violence are at higher risk for risky sexual behaviors, eating disorders and substance abuse.
How can we best help our kids recognize that this is a problem? Even better, how can we help them through it if it is a problem?
Facts About Teen Dating Violence
Support Is Everything
The victim may not realize until it's too late that they are being victimized. After a while it's very easy for a victim to start to believe that they are somehow deserving of the abusive behaviors, and that they are merely fortunate to be with anyone, let alone someone who treats them as badly as their significant other.
Friends, parents, teachers - anyone whom the victim of the dating abuse might trust - can't sound accusatory to the victim. Leaving the relationship is not as easy as we on the outside might feel, and sounding as though we are somehow blaming the person by saying that they should have known what their significant other was like, that they should have just left when they could have, will only make them feel defensive and in need of defending the abusive person.
Victims of teen dating violence need support. They need to know that you, as the trusted support person, will help them get any extra support they need in order to leave the relationship and move on with their lives. That could mean counselling, or taking them to get a restraining order, or something like that - the support given will depend on the situation.
There is no need for blaming, fault finding or anything else like that - the person will be likely struggling with self-esteem issues, among other things, so you need to try and provide continued support for the person's physical and especially mental well being. They could be extremely fragile on both counts.
This post is also not about pinning the blame on any one gender for any sort of violence. While violence against women has a tendency to be more widely reported by the media, it's important to realize that violence can occur between same sex partners of either gender, and that women have also assaulted men as well.
This is about supporting those teens that unfortunately find themselves in a violent relationship with someone they have feelings for and helping them realize that they are in such a relationship. While physical and sexual violence have largely been discussed here, it should be noted that verbal abuse can be a huge issue as well.
Teens have to feel safe with their friends or family members to be able to discuss these relationships openly. They don't want reminders that perhaps they should have known better, or that they made a mistake by being with the person who is being violent. They don't need to feel as though they are attacked for being in such a relationship; they are highly vulnerable as it is when they come to you for support.
Be there for them when they need that crucial support.