Combating Teen Dating Violence

The NY Times has a really interesting article on teen dating violence, and the measures that have been taken recently to prevent and assist in the problem:

Texas recently adopted a law that requires school districts to define dating violence in school safety codes, after the 2003 stabbing death of Ortralla Mosley, 15, in a hallway of her Austin high school and the shooting death of Jennifer Ann Crecente, 18, two years ago. Rhode Island in 2007 adopted the Lindsay Ann Burke Act — prompted by the murder of a young woman by a former boyfriend — requiring school districts to teach students in grades 7 through 12 about dating abuse.

New York recently expanded its domestic violence law to allow victims, including teenagers in dating relationships, to obtain a restraining order against an abuser in family court rather than having to seek help from the criminal justice system. Legislators were moved to act after a survey by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene showed that dating violence had risen by more than 40 percent since 1999, when the department began asking students about the problem.

Although there are no definitive national studies on the prevalence of abuse in adolescent relationships, public health research indicates that the rate of such abusive relationships has hovered around 10 percent. Experts say the abuse appears to be increasing as more harassment, name-calling and ridicule takes place among teenagers on the Internet and by cellphone.

[. . .]

Such behavior often falls under the radar of parents, teachers and counselors because adolescents are too embarrassed to admit they are being mistreated.

The article sites other stats on teen dating violence, and it’s well worth a read. The saddest thing about these recent actions is that it seems to take the extreme tragedy of murder to wake us up into doing something. Too many seem to think that intimate partner violence is something that affects only married people, only poor people — or really, anyone who is not them and their kids.

I’m a survivor of teen dating violence.  I don’t usually call it that — I usually just call it rape, and/or an abusive relationship.  But I was a teenager.  A young teenager. And though I was abused “only” emotionally and sexually (i.e. I was never hit), I know what this kind of dynamic is like. I know what it’s like to be preyed upon when you’re too young and naive to know any better; indeed, when no one has taught you any better.

As I argue in my essay in Yes Means Yes, the new anthology about sexual violence, we regularly fail to give children and teenagers realistic depictions of what violence looks like.  In the book, I argue mainly in terms of sexual violence, but the same goes for other kinds of violence as well.  And maybe that’s because far too many adults don’t know what rape and intimate partner abuse look like, either.

We teach teens that rape is wrong, and that no means no.  But we don’t teach them that “yes” is also a requirement, and that pressing someone who’s giving a “no” until they give up doesn’t create consent.  We don’t teach them that it’s not a woman’s job to fend off attacks from men and not men’s job to create them — in fact, in far too many schools under abstinence-only education we’re explicitly teaching the exact opposite.  We teach teens that hitting is wrong, but often not that it’s wrong to control who your significant other can and can’t see.  We don’t teach them that put downs, insults and threats are more than unacceptable, but also abusive.  We teach them that love is supposed to be all-consuming, without recognizing how dangerous this can be.  And while it’s all well and good that we tell them to not get into abusive relationships in the first place, far too often we neglect to tell them how to get out.

If we want to keep teens safe, all of that needs to change.  And clearly, I think that preventative education (for both genders, and from both angles) is key.  We need to recognize teen dating violence as actual abuse.  We need to stop trying to shield teens from the big, bad world instead of teaching them how to deal with it.

See SAFER for some additional resources.

0 thoughts on “Combating Teen Dating Violence

  1. ithappenedtome

    This post is wonderful, I know my school had ONE pamphlet in the guidance office about abusive relationships, had someone taught me that what was happening wasn’t “Normal” Well.. it would have been a bit of wonderful comfort. Thanks so much and keep writing!

  2. Carlin

    Young people can’t have too much exposure to info about healthy relationships because it’s pitted against a brutally huge amount of negative ideas in the media. Thank you for being a voice of truth and compassion!

  3. Eugene M. Hyman

    Thank you for your posting. Juvinile DV is an important issue that is not being addressed in most jurisdictions.
    Santa Clara County (San Jose, CA) started a juvenile domestic violence and family violence court in April 1999 which received in June of this year, a United Nations Public Service Award. It was the first court that addresses domestic violence in the US if not the world.
    Please contact me if you would like more information, protocols, etc.

  4. Lyndsay

    I am quite excited that Ontario’s Ministry of Education recently announced that they are expanding the sexual health curriculum to include teaching of stereotypes, homophobia, sexual identity, dating violence, and sexual harassment from grades 6 to 9. They are also making more step-by-step lesson plans. And having steps that teachers must follow if they hear a homophobic of sexually inappropriate comment. I’m also glad to see Ontario and Newfoundland have plans for reducing woman abuse.
    I feel like our federal government is doing nothing good for the environment or equality or social justice in the world but some provinces are trying to do good and recognizes that this is a problem.

  5. AshKW

    It never happened to me, but I was one of the lucky ones. Where I went to high school, juvenile DV simply wasn’t discussed or acknowledged. Even date rape got only a brief, passing mention in my health class. Consent was not mentioned, ever. Just “don’t have sex.” And I graduated from high school only six years ago.

    It’s great to hear other areas are more progressive. Let the trend continue!


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