By Damarys Santiago-Ramirez
February is known as the month of love and romance. Throughout the month, we see advertisements of hearts, kisses, cupids, chocolates, strawberries, roses, vacations, cruises, and jewelry. Who would not want to believe that this is the perfect way to look at love?
Unfortunately, in that search for love, adults and especially teens find themselves in a not so perfect relationship. For teens, that first love may become a relationship that is unhealthy and include dating violence. Teen dating violence, just like the domestic violence we see between adults, is a year around problem that can occur in many forms. It can be physical, verbal, emotional, psychological or sexual abuse between opposite or same sex teen dating partners and can cause irreparable harm among them.
Teens have their unique challenges when it comes to dating violence. Our teens rarely see good examples of healthy relationships especially within our pop culture. Most teens attend school or live within close proximity to an abusive partner which further complicates a situation if the teen victim is trying to avoid their abuser. In addition, teens may have a difficult time speaking out about their abusive relationships with adults due to a lack of trust or fear of what may happen. Instead, they often turn to their friends, who often share the same kind of ideas when it comes to the subject of relationships and abuse.
Physical teen dating violence can result in minor to severe physical injuries and in some circumstances could result in death of either the teen victim or the abuser. The physical abuse could include hitting, striking, hair pulling, slapping, kicking, strangling and any other form of violent physical contact. Victims of teenage dating violence are more likely to engage in self-destructive behaviors in an effort to cope with the abuse. Being exposed to physical abuse at a young age has been found to be a precursor to intimate violence later on in relationships. This exposure can also increase the likelihood of growing up and evolving into adult victims or abusers in unhealthy relationships. Statistically speaking, approximately one out of every 10 high school students, or 1.5 million teenagers, are physically abused by a boyfriend or girlfriend every year.
Verbal, emotional and psychological abuse can be identified within the different relational dynamics of teens. This is often observed in the forms of name-calling, belittling, stalking, isolation, body shaming and control over social media and communication among others. These three types of abuse can be very dangerous and may require supportive counseling to help heal the prolonged emotional effects.
Teen dating violence can also lead to sexual assault. They may find themselves engaging in sexual activities with a demanding or coercive partner or may just be responding to pressures to engage in various sexual activities. These pressures can come, not just from the dating partner, but also to fulfill peers expectations as well. A teen victim who succumbs to unwanted sexual expectations could simply be trying to avoid upsetting the person who they are trying to establish a relationship; or they may even be trying to prevent other abuse from occurring. Reports show that one in ten teenagers involved in a romantic relationship has been kissed, touched, or physically forced to have sex against their will by a boyfriend or girlfriend.
In general, victims of teen dating violence experience other challenges. They are more likely to do poorly in school, engage in sexually promiscuous behavior, begin smoking, turn to illicit drugs to escape reality, begin drinking alcohol, get into physical fights or attempt suicide. Dating violence is a risk to the health, safety and the wellbeing of our children and for this reason; we should all take a stand to put an end to teen dating violence.
As a parent of a teenager, take the initiative to speak with your teen about teen dating violence. If possible, try to expand the conversation to not just the effects dating violence has on victims, but the criminal consequences it can bring to the abuser. Knowing the signs of dating violence will allow our teens to recognize the different types of abuse and will equip them to identify unacceptable behaviors that could lead to unhealthy relationships and to stand up for what they consider healthy and acceptable when it comes to relationships.
Feeling comfortable with talking about healthy relationships will not only empower your teen to be respectful in their relationships, but also to speak out when they are involved in an abusive relationship. It is extremely important that your teen knows that no matter what you are there for them. Finally, an possibly most important, informing our teens about the resources available through the different organizations within our military and civilian community will provide them with numerous tools that will help them properly address and better handle these kind of situations.
In 2006, the government officially recognized the first week of February as National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Week. Education, awareness and intervention are the key to stop dating violence and February provides us the opportunity of increasing all the three. Teen Dating Violence is a social problem that belongs to all of us since it, directly or indirectly, has an effect on us and it is our responsibility to do whatever it is in our power to stop and/or eradicate this problem from our society.
The Fort Leonard Wood Family Advocacy Program is committed to putting an end to teen dating violence. During the month of February, we will be promoting the cause by providing education and awareness to our local youth. For additional information or requests regarding Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, Domestic Violence or the Victim Advocate Program, please contact the Army Community Service Program at 573.596.0212 or our Family Advocacy Program at 573.596.4268.
(Editor’s note: Santiago-Ramirez is a victim advocate coordinator at Fort Leonard Wood Family Advocacy Program.)