National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month: Part One
The Domestic Violence Awareness Project (DVAP) reminds us that February is “Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.” During February, many different organizations along with DVAP coordinate their efforts to call attention to this problem, educate the public, and highlight ways the community can get involved and make a difference.
Unfortunately, teen dating violence is more common than people think. Loveisrespect.org reports that “one in three teens will experience physical, sexual, or emotional abuse by someone they are in a relationship with before they become adults.” In addition to activities and educational programs throughout February, Loveisrespect has also designated the week of February 12 to 18 as “Respect Week.”
As part of “Respect Week,” the organization is calling for everyone to wear orange on February 13 to show solidarity with awareness month. This can be anything orange: a belt, finger nail polish, a hat, shirt, or whatever works for the individual. The purpose is to call attention to the abuse problem in a creative way.
The fact that there is a whole month dedicated to the problem of teen dating violence (TDV) raises some questions. For example, how prevalent is the problem? How is teen dating violence defined? Why does it happen and what are the risk factors? What are the consequences to a teen victim of violence and abuse?
The Problem of TDV Is Prevalent
According to a report by the National Resource Center for Domestic Violence (NRCDV), every year in the U.S., 1.5 million high school students are physically abused by a dating partner. Only one out of four parents has ever even talked to their children about domestic violence and how teens should respond if such a thing happens to them. The lack of discussion means lack of education, which leads many teenagers to think some type of violence in a dating relationship is to be expected and may even be normal. The main purposes of Teen DVA month is to raise awareness of the pervasiveness of the problem and educate the community about what teen dating violence actually is.
Teen Dating Violence Defined
- Physical. This is when a partner pushes, pinches, punches, kicks, hits, slaps, pulls hair, chokes, bites, or any type of actual physical contact.
- Psychological or emotional. Threats of harming a partner, or of constant put-down attacks on a partner’s sense of self-worth like shaming, name-calling, embarrassing the person in public, and/or isolating the partner from friends and family is abuse. Also, controlling activities of the partner, even telling them what to wear and how to act, and taking the victim’s paychecks are forms of abuse.
- Sexual. Involves forcing a partner into participating in sex acts against his or her will.
- Stalking. Harassing a partner or ex-partner to a level that causes that person to be afraid.
- Cyberbullying. Repeated texting, name-calling, threatening texts and emails, or posting sexual pictures of the partner on line or sharing with other “friends” on social media are abusive acts, as is forcing the victim to share a password and logging into email and other accounts without permission.
The abuse may occur in long-term dating relationships, or in casual dating encounters. The primary impetus driving the abuse is the need for the abuser to exert “power and control” over his or her partner.
Why Does Teen Dating Violence Occur?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified some reasons why dating violence happens and what risk factors indicate a teen is prone to an unhealthy and violent relationship. Some of those include teens who:
- Believe that violence in a dating relationship is normal
- Have witnessed domestic violence in their own homes
- Display aggressive behaviors toward peers in general
- Use drugs or other illegal substances
- Are depressed and anxious
- Have a friend who is also involved in dating violence
The majority of teens do not report the violence or even tell their family or friends because they are more afraid of the consequences of reporting the abuse than in staying in the abusive relationship.
What Are the Consequences to Teen Victims of Violence and Abuse?
The CDC reports that teens who are victims of violence and abuse may suffer throughout their entire life. They are prone to depression and anxiety. They often engage in unhealthy acts, such as drug abuse and alcoholism. They may exhibit antisocial acts and be prone to thoughts of suicide. In addition, there are other consequences if there is no intervention and the abuse continues:
- School performance suffers in addition to other mental and physical consequences
- Violence occurring in a high school dating situation sets the stage for a lifetime of victimization
Those who are in abusive relationships in high school are more likely to be victims of violence in college or later in their life. Nearly half of all college women who date say they have been the victim of dating abuse. Almost 60 percent say they do not know how to identify TDV or how to help someone who is experiencing abuse.
Stay tuned for Part Two, which will discuss: 1) Red flags that indicate to family and friends that a person they are concerned about is in a violent and abusive relationship; 2) What family and friends, as essentially bystanders, can do to help a teenager escape from an abusive dating relationship; and 3) Steps to take to educate teens about what a healthy relationship looks like.