VISTA, Ca., May 26, 2015 – Streams of black mascara ran down her cheeks as she walked to the back of the bus and sat down. Her curly brown hair covered the black and blue mark left on her cheek from her high school boyfriend. He smacked her because she had spoken to another boy in the hallway at the end of one of her classes. This wasn’t the first time he had hurt her. The last time he broke her arm, but she told her parents she fell. Kelly didn’t know what she was going to do but knew she had to get away from him. It was time to tell her parents.
Teens involved in abusive relationships, also known as domestic violence (DV) or intimate partner violence (IPV), are often overlooked in abuse awareness campaigns. According to the American Psychological Association, “One in five female high school students reports being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner.” Not only is that a high number, it is a statistic that like of all abuse statistics, should not exist.
Domestic violence is under reported in general. That begs the question as to how much more abuse exists in teen dating than is reported. The fact that it does exist gives rise to the need of understanding why abuse happens, what solutions are available to reduce it, and the strategies to prevent it from happening at all.
There are numerous reasons behind teen IPV, but one that may be a leading cause is the history of parental relationships of those teens. Our training ground, our “boot camp,” for relationships began when we entered our family unit and continues on as we enter relationships of our own. While all relationships don’t mimic that of our parents, often times they do, and we are more likely to repeat what we were exposed. Have you ever experienced the moment when you have said something and thought “I sounded just like my mother or father?”
It is more likely for a teen who has come from an abusive home, even if the abuse was not directed at them, to repeat the abusive behavior or accept it as a normal part of a relationship. There are signs a parent can look for to identify if their teen may have become a victim of abuse in a dating relationship, such as: the teen becomes withdrawn, visits less social engagements, talks less to close friends, has a change in social media behavior, has noticeable visible injuries, or wears clothes that can hide injuries.
Finding a solution can start in the same place, the home. For parents who are involved in abusive relationships, now is the time to correct the unhealthy behavior or get out of the situation entirely. It may be thought that if the abuser is not physically hurting the children, the kids are not affected. That is not the case. Children imitate what they see. Therefore, correcting the behavior can show children abuse is not acceptable. Another solution to addressing teen IPV is talking with the teen. An open line of communication is healthy for so many reasons. Specifically talking about what is currently happening within the home and how it applies to their own relationships can allow teens to realize what is healthy and what is not.
Preventing abuse from happening in the first place is vital. Communication with a teen before they enter into a relationship can make a healthy impact. Things that are important to discuss are how to handle the types of conflict that can arise in a relationship and what things are necessary to maintain a healthy one. Being equipped with this knowledge and having the tools necessary to carry it out are important. Having healthy boundaries in place is one tool. Since dating is new for teens, defining what boundaries are, determining how to establish them, and what to do when someone crosses those lines, can prevent abuse.
If you are a teen involved in an abusive relationship, there is help available. The first thing to do is confide in a parent or counselor. There are resources available, such as, DASH, Dating Abuse Stops Here www.datingabusestopshere.com 1-866-331-9474 which provides immediate help, OWH, Office of Women’s Health www.womenshealth.gov/violence-against-women/types-of-violence/dating-violence.html 1800-994-9662 available Mon. through Fri. from 9:00 am -6:00 pm est., or The National Domestic Violence Hotline www.thehotline.org/2012/08/counseling-for-domestic-violence-survivors 1-800-799-7233.
Kelly looked down, her eyes veered to the seat next to her. She saw a folded piece of paper, picked it up, and opened it. The website of the National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards http://nacvcb.org was the only thing written on it. She took that with her as she exited her stop. When she got home, she went to the site, clicked on her state, and discovered there was funding available to cover the medical expenses from her injuries, as well as, for mental health counseling. She explored additional helpful websites and wrote them down on the note. From there she told her parents what had happened , then took the note, put it in a library book, and returned to the public library.
*The opening and closing of this article is fictional.