Op-Ed: Dating and Violence Should Never Be a Couple
Your boyfriend is jealous and possessive, and won’t let you spend time with your friends. Your girlfriend is constantly checking in on you, and asking where you are and what you are doing. Your boyfriend threatens to hurt himself or someone else if you break up with him. If you’re a teenager, these are some warning signs that you might be in a violent relationship.
Teen dating violence is an ongoing crisis that receives little public attention despite the number of people caught in its web: approximately one in five female high school students report being physically and/or sexually abused by the person they date. And what’s even more troubling is that such early relationships can set a person on a lifelong path of destructiveness and hurt. Teens who are part of an abusive relationship are more likely to experience violence in their adult relationships –violence that often becomes even more severe.
Sadly, few parents are aware of the danger: 81 percent of parents surveyed either believe teen dating violence is not an issue or admit they don’t know if it is.
If you or someone you know is in such a relationship, what can you do? A new Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Toolkit, influenced by teens as part of an American Bar Association project, has some answers. Released in anticipation of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Week, Feb. 6 – 10, this peer-directed kit offers a list of warning signs of an abusive relationship and prevention tips in order to help parents, school personnel, lawyers, court personnel, law enforcement and medical professionals help teens. The kit also shows lawyers how they can help by explaining legal procedures in language that teens understand and by taking the victim’s experience seriously.
For parents, here are a few questions to ask during Teen Dating Violence Awareness Week: Has your child’s weight changed significantly since they’ve started dating someone? Does your son or daughter seem depressed? Does your son constantly apologize for his girlfriend’s behavior? Teens suggested that parents invest time in their child, talking with them daily about their activities and relationships, to get a sense of whether or not they are in harms’ way.
School personnel can help by first paying attention to the relationships that form in school, and looking out for students requesting sudden schedule changes, or whose grades suddenly drop. And teachers can make a classroom a comfortable place for students to open up, to talk.
Friends, parents, lawyers and teachers and others all can work together to ensure that teens feel supported to come forward to disclose abuse and to become safe.
The toolkit also includes a guide for teachers that features potential classroom activities for raising awareness of the issue and starting a dialogue about the problem; wallet-sized cards with the National Domestic Violence Hotline number listed; and a DVD where teens share their personal accounts of abusive relationships.
Teen dating violence may not have been talked about up until now, but whether the teen is rich or poor, a boy or a girl, black, white, Asian, Native American or Latino, the problem is widespread and serious. Intimate partner violence among teens has been linked to substance use, unhealthy weight control behaviors, sexual risk behaviors, pregnancy and suicide. It’s time to bring this epidemic into the open and fight it head on. We can’t afford not to.