Domestic violence

Youth on violence: Teach teens to recognize abusive behavior signs

August 12, 2012 

Felicia Laks

Almost one in four women report experiencing violence at the hands of a former or current partner or spouse.

You won't be hearing about it on the 10 o'clock news, however. An estimated 25 to 50 percent of all domestic abuse is unreported.

Studies show that teenagers also suffer from dating violence. One in three teenage girls report being threatened with violence by a partner.

People in abusive relationships are often hesitant to leave. Abusers usually don't become violent until later in the relationship when their partner is already emotionally attached. When confronted and asked why they won't leave their abusers, many people reply that they love their partners and couldn't leave if they wanted.

This can also happen to teenagers, and it has the potential to be much more dangerous. Though teens understand part of what it means to be in an abusive relationship, they may gloss over some forms of abuse, such as being cut off from friends and family, verbal abuse or their partner threatening self-harm. They may consider their abuser's actions to be normal due to how the media or even their families portray relationships.

A local student we'll call Tara, now 20, who shared her story to help others, says she entered into a relationship when she was 14 with a boyfriend who was verbally abusive. After they broke up, but remained friends, the abuse worsened. "It didn't seem abusive like I'd come to understand it," she said. "By the time it reached its worst, I had been alienated from my friends and didn't feel like I could reach out to them."

Domestic violence isn't talked about as often as it needs to be, and it's mentioned even less in the context of teenagers, whose hormones and even peer pressure can make it harder for them to identify an abusive relationship. But when 30 percent of teenage girls claim they have been abused by a partner, it's time to consider preventive measures.

Such measures could be small things: a more complete unit in health class or pamphlets in the counselor's and nurse's office, or something a bit more zealous, like Green Dot, a violence-prevention initiative.

The Green Dot team goes to high schools in Kentucky every year, spreading awareness about violence among teens and how it could be stopped. While they mention dating violence and even rape, the message seems to be lost not long after their visits.

It's important to continually remind teenagers that they can be victims of dating abuse and rape, and to let them know there are support systems to help them recuperate from physical, emotional or sexual violence.

Twenty-five percent of women report being abused and 20 percent report being raped. Though reported less often, men are also victims of abuse and rape.

It's important to tell teens — girls and boys alike — from an early age that they have the power to get help and prevent others from being subjected to violence. "I think 90 percent of the battle is making sure people are educated enough to know the signs, and strong enough to say it's not OK," Tara says.

Dating violence is not always avoidable, but something can be done about it. By starting with simple steps, it can become less of the epidemic it is.

Felicia Laks, 16, is a Spanish immersion student at Bryan Station High School and takes great interest in gender issues and equality.

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