End the Silence: Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

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Guest post by: Averett Robey, Prevention Education Specialist, HAVEN

As a Prevention Education Specialist, I regularly talk to youth about healthy relationship skills and the dynamics of dating violence and abuse. It never fails to astound me how many students say that jealousy is a sign their partner cares, and that they should know what their partner is doing, and who they are with, at all times. During Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, I’ve been reflecting on my own dating experiences and how immersed our society is in a culture that continuously glorifies and depicts unhealthy and abusive relationships as romantic, exciting, and normal. I can remember watching my sister passionately consume every book and movie in the Twilight series, wondering why no one around me seemed to feel uncomfortable about some of Edward’s behaviors. It would not be until college that I began to realize the extent to which those behaviors were unhealthy and even abusive. Part of my motivation to become an educator and work with youth K though 12th grade, is because it wasn’t until I was in college that I found out what a healthy relationship looked like and everything that went into it. That bothers me because there is a lot of trauma and bad habits that develop before college age.

According to the CDC, one in ten high school students report experiencing physical violence from an intimate-partner. The U.S. Department of Justice reports that females ages 16-24 are more vulnerable to intimate partner violence than any other group; at a rate almost triple the national average. One thing is clear with statistics like this, dating violence with youth needs to be addressed. Whether it was one in ten, one in twenty, or one in one-hundred, one person is too many! It’s affecting youth at epidemic proportions and developing habits that they may carry the rest of their lives.

Before we can talk about prevention we first have to understand the subtleties of dating violence. Dating violence and abuse is defined as a pattern of controlling and assaultive behaviors and tactics that one person uses in order to gain and maintain power and control, over the person that they’re in an intimate relationship with. Abuse does not necessarily involve physical violence, often the threat of violence is enough to gain and maintain power and control.

These tactics and behaviors can include, but are not limited to:

  • Using looks, actions, or gestures to intimidate.
  • Threatening to share private information, or post private pictures.
  • Making partner feel crazy or confused, or like they do not have personal autonomy.
  • Going through partner’s phone.
  • Expecting partner to be available when they want them to be.
  • Repeatedly calling/sending text messages when partner does not want contact.
  • Repeatedly putting partner down and making them feel bad about themselves.

We may notice that we ourselves have used, or experienced, some of these tactics in our lives. That does not mean you’re a batterer or that you’ve experienced abuse. There is a difference between healthy, unhealthy, and abusive behaviors. In order for it to be abusive, there must be a pattern of controlling and assaultive behaviors. Many of us have participated in unhealthy relationship tactics and we can all learn better ways to communicate in such a way that is based in respect and equity.

We can work together to prevent dating violence and change the culture that allows for abuse to exist:

  • Model and teach healthy relationship skills that are rooted in equity, accountability, respect, and communication.
  • Address when you see/hear abusive relationships and tactics in the media.
  • Continue to educate yourself and others about dating violence.
  • End the silence and raise awareness around the realities of abuse.
  • Participate in Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month events.
  • 83% of teens surveyed said they would turn to a friend for help with dating violence rather than turn to a teacher, counselor, parent or other adult. It is our responsibility to work with youth to develop safe and smart bystander strategies and to educate them how to respond when someone you know is experiencing abuse.

[Learn more ways to become involved in preventing dating violence and abuse.]

If you or someone you know is experiencing dating violence HAVEN can help. Call our 24-hour Crisis and Support Line at (248) 334-1274.

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