February is Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Awareness Month. Dating violence, including stalking and harassment, physical and sexual violence, and emotional abuse, impacts one in ten teens in the United States. Teens who are in abusive relationships often have lower grades, higher drop-out rates, issues with drug and alcohol use, experience mental and physical health issues, and are more likely to be in abusive relationships as adults.
Only one in four parents have ever talked with their child about domestic or dating violence. Teens are often discovering relationships and forming attitudes about sex and sexuality, making them especially at risk for dating violence. It is important to listen to and talk with young people – before they start dating – about respectful and healthy relationships, and to model healthy communication. These honest conversations will open the door to further discussions about important topics.
Teens also have great influence over each other. Peer education and engagement programs, such as those conducted by LaFASA member centers, can promote healthy social norms, encourage teens to stand up against violence, and recognize signs of abuse. For information about bringing these programs to your school or community group, contact your local center.
Dating violence prevention efforts must address societal issues in awareness, prevention and response. For example, many laws provide different protections afforded to people who do not live together or are not legally married. Louisiana law protects domestic violence survivors, who are at tremendous risk for homicide, by allowing the court to confiscate firearms owned by abusers. However, this law excludes many people in dating relationships, putting them at grave risk. In addition, the Louisiana legislature forbids the collection of key data related to sexual abuse. Every year, the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Study asks middle and high school students about their experiences with a variety of issues, including abuse. Louisiana schools are prohibited from asking about sexual violence, making it difficult to assess the full scope of the problem in our communities and the effectiveness of prevention efforts. Finally, school policies can inadvertently endorse dangerous attitudes among teens. This includes school dress codes that ban certain articles of clothing for girls because they will “distract” boys. Schools should support girls’ learning, not blame them for boys’ actions.
Working together, teens, the adults in their lives, advocates and educators, and all community members can help end dating violence!