Guest commentary: Response looking to educate teens on dating violence
Did you know that February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month? We are calling attention to this because one in three high school students have experienced some form of dating violence — physical, emotional or sexual.
Young women experience it at rates three times the national average. Among female high school students who have experienced sexual and physical abuse by a dating partner, nearly half have seriously contemplated suicide, and more than one in four have attempted suicide. For boys who’ve experienced dating violence, one in four have attempted suicide.
If you are surprised by these numbers, you aren’t alone — 81 percent of parents don’t think teen dating violence even exists. This is partly because only a third of young people who have experienced abuse will report it. Teens themselves don’t always recognize these behaviors as dating violence.
Abuse often starts verbally with behaviors like putdowns, name-calling and marginalizing. When a teen tolerates this level of abuse from a partner, it may escalate into the physical realm. The victim is often confused and embarrassed by what’s happening to them. If they can even put a name to it, they may be afraid they won’t be believed or that they will be mocked by their peers if they talk about what is happening to them.
It’s important to help kids recognize the signs of abusive relationships. These can include: checking a partner’s cellphone, email or social networks without permission; extreme jealousy or insecurity; constant put-downs; explosive temper; isolating from family and friends; dramatic mood swings; inflicting pain and pressuring them to have sex.
One problem is that pop culture normalizes the idea that behaviors like jealousy, control and manipulation are “typical” aspects of relationships. Kids need to hear that this is not true and that dating violence is never alright.
Use teachable moments in your lives to help make this point. If a video trivializes abuse, ask them what they think about this and how they might respond differently in that situation. If a song makes light of sex without consent, use the opportunity to tell them otherwise. Model healthy relationship behaviors in your own life and highlight positive examples around you. Tell teens what they should do if they or someone they know is experiencing dating violence. We have a lot of great resources in our community and no one should have to experience these things alone (our 24-hour crisis help line is 970-925-SAFE).
Response works with survivors of domestic and sexual abuse to achieve their safety and empowerment. We are committed to working with our community to end domestic and sexual abuse. We provide prevention education classes in every middle and high school from Basalt to Aspen. This month we are at Aspen High School talking to the ninth- and 10th-grade students about sexual harassment and consent. Join us in this conversation and help us ensure that our kids know that it is their right to be safe and that love should never hurt.
Shannon Meyer is the executive director of Response, For more information, go to http://www.responsehelps.org or call 970-920-5357. Response’s crisis line is 970-925-SAFE.