Domestic violence is a serious problem in adult relationships and teen dating violence is just as serious. Most victims of domestic violence and teen dating violence are female. Studies reveal that domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44, more common than automobile accidents, muggings, and cancer deaths combined. (Source: Journal of American Medical Association, 1990). Teen victims are more likely to engage in unhealthy physical and risky behavior such as using drugs, getting pregnant or attempting suicide. Abuse can lead to death or suicide but it also means physical, emotional and psychological health issues for the victim. Added to this, many children in families where partner violence occurs have their lives affected and shaped by violence. (Source: Family Violence Prevention Fund www.endabuse.org)
A general statistic is that one out of every three women is abused.
In 2001, one in five female U.S. high school students reported being physically and or sexually abused by a dating partner. (Jay G. Silverman et al., Teen Dating Violence)
In 2005, one in three U.S. teens knew a friend or peer who had been hit, punched, slapped or physically hurt by his or her partner. (Teenage Research Unlimited)
Domestic violence and abuse occur when one person in a relationship uses a pattern or repeated controlling behaviors to establish and maintain power over the other person.
Abuse can take many forms. Physical abuse, such as hitting, slapping and destroying property is probably the most obvious form of domestic violence and the most likely to be criminal. However, other abusive behaviors are used to intimidate and frighten, humiliate, blame, or isolate a person. Behavior such as putting her down, controlling who she sees, threatening to take the children away, not letting her have access to money, telling her how to dress are all abusive behaviors used to control the other person. The Power and Control Wheel and Power and Control in Teen Dating Relationships Wheel are helpful tools in understanding abusive and violent behaviors. They can be found at www.ncdsv.org/publications_wheel.html
Abuse may be repeated regularly or may occur occasionally over a longer period of time with a cycle of violence taking place in which the abuse is followed by a period of calm followed by abuse again. An abusive relationship can have good times and bad times. This can make the abuse confusing and painful for the victim or make it difficult to ascertain whether abuse is really taking place.
The abuser may blame the victim for causing the violence rather than taking responsibility for their own actions. However, abuse is the choice of the abuser and the victim is not responsible or to blame. No one has the right to violate another person with violence or abuse. Abuse is an intentional act. Alcohol, drug use and mental illness can go along with abuse but these are not the cause of abuse.
Domestic violence and teen dating violence can happen to anyone and within any community. Victims can be of any age, race, education, religious beliefs, marital status, region or socioeconomic status. Men can also be abused.
Domestic abuse is often not noticeable to those outside the relationship. Abusers can be very careful to hide their abuse. Often the victim is the only first-hand witness of the abuse. Even if the police have been called either by the victim, a child or neighbor who has overhead the abuse, or even by the abuser themselves, the police may be powerless to do anything. Common reactions can be for the victim to deny the reality of the abuse, or make excuses for the abuser, or the victim may feel shame or fear that the abuser will be angered even further leading to more violence occurring.
To end the cycle of violence, the victim has to want help and want to get out of the abusive relationship. Having someone to trust and providing resources such as a local support group, helping them develop a safety plan for when they want to escape or finding a safe place to go empowers the victim to gain control over their life. Leaving can be dangerous for the victim. Any evidence of the victim trying to get out from under the control of the abuser is the most vulnerable time and could lead to more violence and harm. Safe houses offer a high degree of protection from repeated abuse, shelter and other forms of treatment and intervention.
Emerging issues are that teenage dating victims are frequently being abused through cell phone and Internet use. Dating abuse via technology can involve humiliation through sending private and embarrassing pictures or control through constant cell phone calls and texting day and night. 30% of teenagers say they are texted 10, 20 or 30 times in an hour by a partner enquiring their whereabouts, what they are doing or who they are with. (Source: Teenage Research Unlimited, Tech Abuse in Teen Relationships.)
Dating violence and abuse can begin as early as 11 years old. Research is showing that 11-14 year olds are exhibiting signs of abuse and that early sexual behavior and dating relationships can also mean early dating violence and abuse. (Source: Teenage Research Unlimited. Tween and Teen Dating Violence.)
A 2009 nationwide program supported by the U.S. Justice Department, called Start Strong: Building Healthy Teen Relationships, is working in a number of communities across the U.S., including Boston, targeting 11-14 year olds to empower them to have healthy relationships and prevent teen dating violence. The aim is not only to educate teens but parents, teachers, communities and youth leaders about teen dating violence to help end domestic and dating violence.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
Do you know of someone who has suffered domestic violence or teen dating violence? Do you know of someone who is or may be in an abusive relationship?
How can their health and safety be improved/not be at risk/be made safe?
Given the negative or fatal affects of abusive relationships, how would you educate junior high, high school, and college students?
What should you do if a victim comes to you tomorrow? How would you confront an abuser? When should you get the authorities involved?
Parents, teachers, church and youth leaders need to model healthy relationships without abuse. To help eliminate domestic violence young people, as they enter into dating and marriage relationships, must be taught what constitutes a healthy relationship and what constitute an abusive relationship. Young people are key in ending and preventing domestic violence as they grow into adults and have intimate relationships.
Young people need to know that they have the right to a violence free relationship.
Young people need to feel empowered to get out of an unhealthy relationship with the support from a friend or adult they can trust. Resources need to be available to them. If physical safety is at risk they need to develop a plan and location that is safe from the abuser.