Tag Archives: teen dating violence

Suffering in Silence


Photo credit: BreaktheCycle.org

Guest Post by Nkenge Burkhead, Prevention Education Specialist, HAVEN

Often the media portrays domestic violence as a married heterosexual couple or partners living together. They have usually been together multiple years and may share bills, expenses, cars, and children. If teens are mentioned at all they are usually witnesses that experience violence second-hand. However, the unfortunate reality for many teens is that they are already experiencing violence and abuse in their relationships, and are suffering in silence.

Intimate partner violence is an umbrella term that covers domestic violence and dating violence. While domestic violence and dating violence are similar, there are differences in the way power and control techniques are carried out. In order to provide adequate resources, we must first acknowledge that teen dating violence exists and include teens in the discussion. Secondly, we must understand and recognize the signs and tools used to perpetrate abuse.

The Prevention Education team at HAVEN conducts interactive presentations with high school students. These students are of various identities, racial, and economic backgrounds. One of the questions we pose is “can texting or calling constantly be a sign of controlling behavior?” I’m still surprised at the number of students who answer “no”, and further shocked at the number of students who identify this behavior to be at least normal and caring.

Social media invites us to publicly announce where we are and who we’re with, discuss our happy and sad moments. It also allows partners to have constant access. We know that stalking has always been used by abusive partners. However, with the invention of smart phones and social media, stalking has redesigned how it presents itself. Accessibility is greater and it has become easier for abusive partners to utilize and control. They no longer have to come to where you are to interrupt your feeling of safety, they can do it from home.

Teen dating violence statistics tell us that there is a need for education, intervention, and resource availability. 1 in 3 adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner. 1 in 10 high school students has been purposely hit, slapped, or physically hurt by a partner. Girls and women between the ages 16 and 24 experience the highest rates of dating violence. These are the statistics that have been collected through reporting. But most people, teens included, never report experiencing intimate-partner violence. There are no statistics for teens who don’t report because they do not identify what they’re experiencing as abuse, or may be afraid to tell their parents because they don’t know they’ve been dating, or might be afraid to get someone in trouble.

We recognize abuse can show up in many ways that aren’t physical. Through our prevention presentations, we are able to ignite conversations that allow teens to explore their personal beliefs and boundaries in relationships. We identify signs and abusive tactics. We also offer tools on how to respond to a friends’ disclosure in a way that is empowering and supportive.

HAVEN’s Prevention Education team is able to provide youth with a space to acknowledge and discuss the prevalence of teen dating violence. In addition to the presentations our counseling services are also available to youth.

Talk to the teens in your life. Listen and learn where they are. Offer advice and support when asked. Offer HAVEN as a resource when any type of abuse is suspected. To schedule HAVEN Prevention Education presentations in your school or community group contact the Prevention Education Program Director at (248) 334-1284 ext. 352.

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Dear Olivia

Valentine's Day

Dear Olivia,

I know you are only 8 years old but it is time to have a talk about Valentine’s Day. Even at the ripe age of 8, we have already sold you a bill of goods about February 14th. We have wrapped this day up into a giant package of love, love, and love.

It is my hope that your generation will get the day right. The focus of the day being about healthy caring relationships, especially the relationship you have with yourself. Your worth is not based on the size of a box of candy or the number of flowers in a bouquet. Your worth is not tied to a romantic relationship.

Remember this, love is beautiful and wonderful and it can also be confusing, frustrating, and disappointing but it is NEVER abusive and violent. Love is about give and take, not power and control. It is about mutual sacrifice and compromise, not fear and hurt. It is a balance of both individual’s needs, wants, and wishes.

Know that a healthy relationship allows you to be you, not some made up version where you exist to please someone else. And you, Olivia, are remarkable! You are smart, funny, caring, strong, determined, and just right.

Happy Valentine’s Day Olivia! May your day be filled with fun, your heart filled with joy, and your spirit filled with knowing that you are enough.

Aunt Beth

Why am I having this conversation with Olivia at age 8? Did you know that teen dating violence behaviors typically begin between the ages of 12 and 18 (2008, National Council on Crime and Delinquency)? And that 1 in 3 adolescents in the US is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner a figure that exceeds rates of all other types of youth violence (2000 American Bar Association Juvenile Justice Center)?

It is never too early to have a conversation with our children about healthy relationships, body autonomy, and love. Boys and girls of all ages need to be armed with correct information and given the direct nod to talk about these critical topics. It is estimated that only 33% of teens who were in a violent relationship ever told anyone about it (2005 Liz Claiborne research). And nearly even more scary than that, 81% of parents believe that teen dating violence is not an issue or admit they don’t know if it is an issue (2004 Family Violence Prevention Fund).

The Olivia’s in our lives need to know that talking about violence is ok. They also need to know that they are worthy of love and respect – from everyone. We need to send these messages with great frequency and clarity. We are responsible for raising a generation where love doesn’t equal fear.

HAVEN offers age-appropriate Prevention Education programs for children and teens that cover many topics including, personal safety, gender respect and healthy relationship skills. Click here to request a speaker or to learn more. 



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Two Sides to a Statistic

A disclaimer, I never did like statistics as a college student and all these years later I’m still not a fan.  One primary reason is that it is really hard to trust a statistic unless you are willing to actually read the research conducted behind it.  As my statistics professor put it, “every statistic has two sides.”

Case in point.  An organization, with good intent, sent out a fact sheet about teen dating violence. This information was widely circulated in my community and I would suspect in communities around the country. The information within this document was useful and helpful in raising awareness about teen dating violence.  And no surprise, statistics were used in putting the information together, interpreted for the reader and used to make a point. The point being that teen dating violence is a big problem in the United States.

But the problem with this type of quick information sharing is that much gets lost in the interpretation of the research or in trying to make a point with as few words as possible.  And therefore, often, the inaccurate side of a statistic is told.

Male and female teens are equally likely to perpetrate and experience dating violence, states Child Trends’ Five Things to Know about Teen Dating Violence.  If you visit the link used for this statement and you read the article in its entirety, I suspect that you will agree with me – the statement used in the list is not a fully accurate description of the truth.  It is a prime example of what is often left out of the conversation.

Multiple research studies have demonstrated that there is a reciprocal use of violence by both partners. However, in many studies “ researchers fail to address the meaning, context, or consequences of the violence” (Dekeseredy, 1995). For example, much of the dating violence research overlooks whether female use of violence was in self-defense or in response to male physical or sexual violence (O’Keefe 2005).

In fact, multiple studies have found that adolescent boys clearly stated that they would use violence against their partner to get their way or to control their partner, whereas adolescent girls would slap or push their boyfriends to be cute, playful or flirtatious. Adolescent girls indicate that fear is a primary effect on them, whereas adolescent boys report little to no fear. As O’Keefe states in her findings, “Given that fear, intimidation, power and control are at the core of adult battering relationships, it is critical to understand how these dynamics may be played out in adolescent relationships.”

Given that nearly 70% of female victims and 54% of male victims experience intimate partner violence prior to the age of 25, it is important that we get this information right.  It is critical that we are able to educate our adolescents about the root causes and impact of dating violence. And it is critical that we be cautious about our use of language when we do so. Blaming the victim instead of holding abusers accountable can have a lethal impact.

This post was originally featured on the Huffington Post Impact blog.

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Boy Interrupted

Co-authored by: Kristopher Kole Wyckhuys, Prevention Education Specialist, HAVEN

Many folks are familiar with the definition and dynamics of domestic violence. They are communicated through various channels, including public service announcements, months named in recognition, laws proposed and enacted and organizations and resources available to assist survivors. Some are also familiar with the movement born in the late seventies that carried education, awareness and assistance to the mainstream and forefront of the epidemic. I’m not the first to write about domestic violence and certainly won’t be the last. Yet statistics are still staggering as approximately 1/5 young women report physical and/or sexual assault by a dating partner.

Outcomes for Youth Experiencing Violent Relationships

Domestic violence and dating violence (DV) are both defined as a pattern of assaulting/controlling attitudes and behaviors that one person uses to maintain power and control over another in an intimate-partner relationship. The difference is that dating violence specifically relates to teens/young adults.

What we experience while we are developing emotionally as teens and young adults influences our attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, general feelings about oneself and the world. Survivors of DV are more likely to: develop risky/unhealthy behaviors; suffer long-term physical and psychological effects; do poorly academically; engage in underage/binge drinking; attempt suicide and carry unhealthy behavior into future relationships.

There are numerous influences and risk factors that attribute to perpetration of abuse. When I ask groups of boys, “Why do abusers abuse?” inevitably they respond with the following:

  • Bad temper, anger management, out of control, just snapped
  • Alcohol/drugs, intoxication
  • Stress, economic problems
  • Grew up in it, that’s all they know, trauma response
  • Bullied, depression, mental problems, PTSD

Certainly these influence and correlate with violence, though, these don’t equate to causation. The cause of DV is often an individual’s underlying belief that he/she has the right to exert power and control over their partner. Batterers use emotional, physical and sexual violence (and the threat of violence) as means to get what they want, when they want it, period.

Why Work with Men and Boys?

At HAVEN, we engage men/boys in leadership development that strives to end violence against women while enhancing the lives of boys as they emerge into men. This focus is centered on men/boys because in 95% of DV occurrences the perpetrator is male, whether the victim is male or female. This speaks volumes to the importance of involving men in the effort. It’s also worth noting that girls/women between ages 16 to 24 experience the highest rate of intimate-partner abuse – triple the national average!

The impact of the methodical “training” of men/boys to adhere to the culturally accepted norm of what it means to “be a man” is great. It socializes them to focus on being aggressive and dominant and the implications of this behavior run deep – for women, men, and society as a whole. The perpetration of violence over historical contexts isn’t improving; it’s simply altering its façade and playing out differently.

But it can be changed. If the people committing the crimes of DV, sexual assault or rape are overwhelmingly men and boys then they should play a role in ending it. Including men and boys in the solution means that they have a seat at the table and a say in redefining masculinity – which brings us closer to true gender equity.

Call to Action

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month.  In honor of that, we’d like to spotlight 5 concrete actions in engaging young men in ending DV. It’s critical in assuring the safety of survivors/victims and promises a brighter future for the boys, who are also being harmed by the idea of toxic masculinity. When speaking with boys about dating violence and masculinity, you have to first be prepared to encounter denial, blame, defensiveness and outright hostility. It’s important to meet him where he is to set a framework for a lasting transformation. This includes challenging the socialization of men/boys through other sources including his peers or the media.

  1. Talk to him and reframe manliness and masculinity. We often use a simple exercise called the Gender Box. Ask him what it means to be a man and be prepared to confront/challenge assumptions. Frame manhood as what happens after boyhood rather than in opposition to femininity and/or womanhood.
  2. Talk with him in the moment! Play video games or watch shows and be prepared to casually talk about the exchanges that are happening that are overtly or subtly sexist and/or violent.
  3. Use contemporary examples to talk about sexual assault and encourage consent. Think about the Robin Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines”. Consent is never blurred. It’s extremely defined. Understand it and talk about it candidly. Consent isn’t an option. It’s mandatory.
  4. Become aware of sexist language. Don’t let him (or yourself) use girl as insult (i.e. Man, stop acting like a little girl, pussy, bitch, fag). This is less an insult to the person being insulted and more a valuation/ranking of women, femininity and it’s homophobic. When we devalue women/girls in this way we effectively make it easier to subconsciously dehumanize and abuse women and girls.
  5. Watch any number of documentaries (see links below) aimed at addressing masculinity from a framework that involves men/boys as empowered bystanders rather than potential perpetrators. Let him know that you understand he’s not someone who’d hurt anyone but that he has a great stake in transforming the culture that allows it.

Interrupting the socialization systems rooted in the belief of what it means to “be a man” isn’t easy. It begins with developing a healthier model of adult masculinity and manhood that’s rooted in forming equitable relationships between all sexes, gender identities and expressions.

Related Films and Reading

The Mask You Live In – Jennifer Newsom
Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes – Byron Hurt
Tough Guise 2: Violence, Manhood and American Culture – Jackson Katz
A Guys Guide to Feminism – Michael Kimmel, Michael Kaufman
Reaching Men: Strategies for Preventing Sexist Attitudes, Behaviors and Violence – Rus Funk

Kristopher Kole Wyckhuys is a respectful and optimistic voice within an intersectional social justice movement. As a Prevention Education Specialist at HAVEN, he focuses on redefining healthy masculinity and works to engage men in ending gender-based violence.

This post was originally featured on the Huffington Post Impact blog

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Filed under Call to action, Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

Teen dating violence awareness

A scary statistic – only 33% of teens who had an abusive dating partner ever told anyone about the abuse.  And potentially even scarier, 81% of parents believe teen dating violence is not an issue or admit that they don’t know if it is an issue.

  • one in three teens in the US is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner;
  • nearly half of dating college women report experiencing violence and abuse from their dating partners;
  •  young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence, almost triple the national average.

Let’s also consider that these girls and young women are usually dating boys and young men very close to their own age. That means we have boys and young men ages 12 and up causing the violence, fulfilling the role of a batterer and rapist.

The goal of this article is not to terrify parents and those of us with young people in our lives but to arm us all with information, information that allows us to get engaged in working toward solutions.

So what are some solutions? First, it’s never too early to talk to your child about healthy relationships and dating violence. Even if you don’t think he/she is dating, these conversations are one of the most important steps you can take in preventing dating violence. Not sure how to get the conversation started? Here are some sample questions (taken from LoveisRespect.org):

  •  Are any of your friends dating? What are their relationships like? What would you want in a partner?
  • Have you witnessed unhealthy relationships or dating abuse in school? How does it make you feel? Were you scared?
  • Do you know what you would do if you witnessed or experienced abuse?
  • Has anyone you know posted anything bad about a friend online? What happened afterwards?
  • Would it be weird if someone you were dating texted you all day to ask you what you’re doing?

Second, get to know the warning signs.

  • Your child’s partner is extremely jealous or possessive.
  • You notice unexplained marks or bruises.
  • Your child’s partner emails or texts excessively.
  • You notice that your child is depressed or anxious.
  • Your child stops participating in extracurricular activities or other interests.
  • Your child stops spending time with family and friends.
  • Your child’s partner abuses other people or animals.
  • Your child begins to dress or behave differently, the way their partner insists that they dress or behave.

Although this list is written in the context of what to look for if one assumes a loved one is being abused, you can also easily flip each sign into the behavior of someone who is the abuser. Example, your child is extremely jealous and possessive toward their dating partner.

And last, the best way to teach our teens and young adults about supportive relationships is to have one ourselves, and to offer many examples of what a supportive partner looks like.  Additionally, the HAVEN Prevention Education team can come to any school in Oakland County to talk about supportive relationships, healthy and respectful dating choices, as well as how to be a good friend to someone in need.  Our programs can last from one day to eight weeks, and we can tailor our curricula to your school’s needs.  For more information, contact Cristy Cardinal at ccardinal@haven-oakland.org or (248) 334-1284 ext. 360.

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