By Amie Brooks, Domestic Violence Coordinator and Yohanna Mendez, Community Clinician
Unhealthy relationships can start early and last a lifetime. Dating violence often starts with teasing and name calling. These behaviors are often thought to be a “normal” part of a relationship.
Teen dating violence is an important, but often overlooked issue that at least one in three teens will experience. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), dating violence is defined as physical, sexual, or psychological/emotional violence within a dating relationship, as well as stalking. It can happen in person or electronically and may exist between a current or former dating partner.
Abusive relationships in adolescence can have serious ramifications by putting the victims at higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior, and further domestic violence. About 1 in 5 women and nearly 1 in 7 men who ever experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner first experienced some form of partner violence between the ages of 11 and 17 (CDC, 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey). Girls and young women between 16 and 24 years old experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence—almost triple the national average. There are also physical and emotional consequences that victims face. Being physically or sexually abused makes teen girls six times more likely to become pregnant and twice as likely to get a sexually transmitted infection, or STI. Half of youth who have been victims of both dating violence and rape attempt suicide, compared to 12.5% of non-abused girls and 5.4% of non-abused boys (Ackard and Neumark-Sztainer, 2002).
Teenagers and adults are frequently unaware that teens experience dating violence. In a nationwide survey, 9.4 percent of high school students report being hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriend or girlfriend in the 12 months prior to the survey (CDC, 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey). Due to lack of awareness of the problem of teen dating violence, 67% of teens do not tell anyone about the abuse (Break the Cycle). In addition, 81% of parents believe teen dating violence is not an issue or admit they don’t know if it’s an issue (Women’s Health, 2004). A teen’s confusion about the law and their desire for confidentiality are two of the most significant barriers stopping young victims of abuse from seeking help. Also, because teens often attend the same school as their abuser, it is difficult for them to come forward and report it for fear that they will not be believed, or will be intimidated or bullied by the abuser and his/her peers. Because many adolescents witness domestic violence in their homes, they often do not know what a healthy relationship is supposed to look like. Due to poor examples in the media and their own lack of dating experience, they may tolerate abuse for longer periods of time.
Dating violence can be prevented when teens, families, organizations, and communities work together to implement effective prevention strategies. Here at Whittier Street Health Center, we offer Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Counseling and Advocacy Services. Confidential support is available regardless of whether or not a person is a patient here. A person is not required to leave a relationship in order to access services; we respect individuals’ choices and rights.
The Domestic Violence Counselor is a licensed clinical social worker who provides ongoing counseling, help with obtaining restraining orders, court accompaniment, and advocacy. Additionally, we offer support groups for women and teens who would like to learn more about healthy relationships. The Domestic Violence Counselor is available Monday to Friday and can be reached at (617) 989-3027.
In observance of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, we also offer a Healthy Relationship workshop. In this workshop, information is provided to youth participants about healthy and unhealthy relationship patterns. Our Decision Arts program for adolescent and teen girls offers psycho-education to young girls about relationships through the use of the arts.
Please help Whittier and other community organizations to raise awareness of dating violence and how teens and young adults can build their lives free of abuse. Together we can break the cycle.
D. M. Ackard, Minneapolis, MN, and D. Neumark-Sztainer, Division of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, Date Violence and Date Rape Among Adolescents: Associations with Disordered Eating Behaviors and Psychological Health, Child Abuse & Neglect, 26 455-473, (2002).
Family Violence Prevention Fund and Advocates for Youth. “Women’s Health,” June/July 2004.