Drawing attention to teen dating violence prevention in February
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (TDVAPM) – a national effort to raise awareness about abuse in youth relationships and mobilize communities to support young people in having safe and healthy relationships. Sadly, just as the month began, Myrna Umanzor, a 15 year old from San Leandro, California was murdered, allegedly by her 19 year old boyfriend, who took his own life the next day. The loss of life in San Leandro is another tragic wakeup call to communities across the state to strengthen efforts to prevent teen dating violence, also known as dating abuse.
During February, thousands across California will engage youth and reach new audiences through Proclamations, educational events, and other efforts. Although we cannot accomplish all of our strategic goals in one short month, these focused efforts will help elevate community understanding of the issues and solutions.
What is dating abuse?
Dating abuse is the use of physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, or technological abuse by a person to harm, threaten, intimidate, or control a dating partner, regardless of whether that relationship is continuing or has concluded, or the number of interactions between the individuals involved. Abuse occurs in relationships among young people from all races, class backgrounds, sexual orientations, and gender identities. Dating abuse is associated with a host of adverse outcomes, including truancy, use of alcohol and drugs, eating disorders, depression and suicide. Adolescents and young adults have the highest rates of intimate partner violence of any age group, with young women ages 16-24 at the highest rate for victimization.
Despite its prevalence, the distinctive aspects of dating abuse and harmful social norms (such as the notion that what happens in a relationship is no one else’s business) make it one of the most overlooked forms of violence. Many young victims do not recognizewarning signs and confuse controlling behaviors as a sign of care. Fear and shame discourage victims from seeking help, and when they do, peers and adults often minimize the potential for harm, unaware of the danger of increasing frequency and severity of abuse over time, and the heightened risk for physical violence during or after a break up.
Talking about healthy relationships and dating abuse with youth
As adolescents begin to explore romantic relationships, they need caring adults who will help them disinguish between healthy, unhealthy and abusive behavior. They need adults who challenge harmful and restrictive gender norms, model healthy ways of addressing intense emotions and conflicts, and demonstrate respect in their various relationships with people from all races, genders, sexual orientations, gender identities and abilities.
Ongoing, open conversations with young people about healthy relationships are vitally important. These conversations should reinforce the importance of respecting boundaries and the right to be free from control from a dating partner. Conversations about healthy relationships should start early, and no later than middle school – the developmental time when many young people become interested in exploring romantic relationships. Adults should intervene early in warning sign behavior, and emphasize (and model) the importance of keeping ties with friends and caring adults when one is in a relationship. (Isolation from family and friends is a warning sign behavior.)
Young people who are being abused may not identify their experience as abuse. When speaking with adolescents who may be experiencing abuse, it’s important to be non-judgmental and empathetic, apply harm reduction principles, help to plan for safety, and have current information for referral agencies and community resources on hand. And remember, during and after a break-up is the most dangerous time when the likelihood of physical violence increases.
What you can do
- Spread the word! Sample TDVAPM Facebook posts and Twitter tweets can be found at www.cpedv.org/tdvapm.
- Build your knowledge! Online professional learning opportunities during February can be found here.
- Educate and engage teens and parents! Useful websites with resources can be found at www.cpedv.org/tdvapm.
- Strengthen partnerships! Year round, we encourage youth, parents, schools, community groups and other stakeholders to partner to foster community environments that support safe and healthy youth relationships free from violence.
- Stay Connected! Sign up for the Partnership’s Prevention Digest to stay abreast of teen dating violence prevention projects, resources and opportunities in California.
Finally, if you know of a teen, parent or concerned friend who could benefit from speaking to a caring, well-trained peer advocate, please connect them with the National Dating Abuse Helpline, at 866-331-9474 (TTY: 866-331-8453), by texting “loveis” to 77054, or through live chat at www.loveisrespect.org. The National Dating Abuse Helpline can also provide referrals to local community resources.