Since 2010, February has been recognized as Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (TDVAM). This is critically important, as each year an estimated 1.5 million high school students experience abuse in their dating relationships. One-third of teens experience physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, and 43 percent of college women report experiencing abuse from a dating partner. Studies have shown that more youth experience dating violence than any other form of violence.
Yet despite the immense scope of the problem, too few people discuss dating violence. In comparison to other “issue” months like breast cancer, it receives far too little attention. Some states require dating violence education in school, but as a resident of Florida, which has such laws, I know that many schools do not comply with the law or if they do, only in a cursory fashion.
Educating youth about dating violence can make a huge difference. First, it can help young people to identify the characteristics of abusive and, in contrast, healthy relationships. Second, it can help teens understand that abuse affects both males and females—in fact, some studies on dating violence have found similar rates of perpetration by males and females. Many young people (and adults, alike) think abuse is only physical and thus education and awareness initiatives can help broaden the understanding of the many forms that abuse can take. Other misconceptions focus on why abuse occurs, with many falsely believing it to be about substance abuse, mental illness, or anger control, rather than about the root issue: someone’s desire to obtain and maintain power and control over a partner. Further, people often fail to understand the dynamics of abusive relationships and the many challenges victims have in leaving abusers or breaking off abusive relationships. Since we know that the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship involves the separation—with youth, the break up, typically—it is absolutely essential that we teach teens about this and, additionally, help them build resilience and coping mechanisms when someone breaks up with them or rejects dating them. Finally, most young people have no idea how to help a friend in need or where to find services they might need if they are enduring an abusive relationship.
Break the Cycle is a non-profit organization that focuses on dating violence. It is promoting the theme “Your Love is Unique—With Consent” for TDVAM 2019. I implore readers to share this theme and resources with the teens, parents, educators, policymakers, and advocates who can help prevent dating violence nationwide.
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