Fifteen year-old “Alex” and her boyfriend had been on-again, off-again for three years. The late-night texts and phone calls, the constant fighting and breaking up – it was exhausting. But he kept telling her, “I can’t live without you,” and she couldn’t help but to keep coming back.
We have a tendency to think of abuse against girls to come at the hands of an adult. And, we all see relationships like Alex’s and tend to attribute the intensity to hormones or puberty. But oftentimes, there’s something else going on, hidden from the eyes of parents and teachers:
Teen dating violence far exceeds the rates of all other types of youth violence. One in three American teenagers will experience dating violence in her or his relationship, and about two-thirds of those teens in abusive relationships will never tell anyone. These statistics don’t even reflect the number of teens who do not understand that what they are experiencing is abuse.
When YWCA Northeast Indiana’s Community Education Coordinator came to her class to talk about healthy relationships, Alex didn’t realize that what she was experiencing was dating abuse. The jealousy, the possessiveness, the isolation from her friends, even the threats of suicide, she thought were romantic. She thought, “This is what you do when you love someone.”
But YWCA Northeast Indiana’s certified Eyes Wide Open… relationship awareness© training made her realize what was really happening in her relationship. And after spending some one-on-one time talking with our Community Education Coordinator, Alex realized that consciously spending time apart from her boyfriend, ignoring his texts, and hanging out with friends she had long been isolated from, brought her a sense of relief.
Getting out of her relationship allowed Alex to become herself again, and hopefully prevented her from experiencing the long-term effects of teen dating violence. (Aside from physical harm, violent relationships in adolescence put teens at higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior, and further domestic violence.)
These destructive relationships during the teen years can also lead to a lifelong pattern of violent relationships. According to the CDC, among adult victims of rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner 22 percent of women and 15 percent of men first experienced some sort of dating violence as teenagers.
YWCA Northeast Indiana helps over 5,000 women, children, and men annually who have been victims of domestic violence, and offers programs that are certified under Heather’s Law to teach teens the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships. We go into hundreds of classrooms and youth groups each year, and we hear stories directly from teenagers. And we are proud to be a part of One Billion Rising Fort Wayne because it gives us the opportunity to spread awareness of these stories. Stories like Alex’s.
So, what can you do?
Talk with the teens in your life about the characteristics of healthy relationships, and the signs of unhealthy ones. Keep your eyes open for changes in behavior, such as disruptive text messages and phone calls, depression, withdrawal and anxiety, which may be signs of an unhealthy relationship. Act on your hunches.
And, if you need help, know that YWCA Northeast Indiana is here to help all victims of dating and domestic violence. Our website (www.ywca.org/NEIN) is a wealth of information and our Crisis Line operates 24/7/365. Call us at (800) 441-4073.
As a community we need to respond to and work toward ending teen dating violence by supporting the efforts of schools, communities, and organizations like YWCA Northeast Indiana, to empower teens to develop healthy relationships.
One in three American teens will experience dating violence. Will your teen be the one?