February is dating violence awareness month

By Judi Nelson
Guest Column

In recent weeks, the subject of interpersonal violence has come into disturbingly clear focus. We are reminded that we are more likely to experience sexual and physical assaults in our homes, jobs, schools and relationships, than on the streets.
With this in mind, we need to realize that there are victims who often go undetected, unsupported, and may be closer to us than we think — we need to realize that dating violence among teens is a serious problem.
In 2010, Congress officially recognized February as National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. During this month, individuals and organizations dedicated to youth and the issues impacting them, promote education and actions to heighten awareness about the realities of dating violence, and create greater understanding of support for victims.
According to surveys conducted by the Department of Health and Liz Claiborne Inc. (loveisrespect.org), 40 percent of girls age 14-17 report knowing someone their age who has been hit or beaten by a boyfriend; 26 percent of teens said they are concerned about dating violence, and of the 18 percent of high school girls who report being physically hurt by someone they are dating, 81 percent continue to date the violent partner.  In 2015, of the 12 women who died as a result of domestic violence, two were teenage girls, killed by dating partners. Although girls represent the overwhelming majority of victims, 7 percent of boys in high school report being physically hurt by their dating partner as well.
The situation does not improve as young people move on to college. Sexual and dating violence are the greatest risks that our daughters face in college, and they remain under reported by both victims and colleges — 20 percent of college women will be victims of rape or attempted rape by the time they graduate, and 95 percent of victims will remain silent.
Although parents can be the first line of defense in both prevention and intervention on behalf of their children, studies indicate that they may be the last to know about the problem, or at least to be aware of the extent, nature and seriousness of the problem. In the Liz Claiborne study, although 86 percent of parents stated that their child would come to them with this problem, only 41 percent of high school students agreed that their parents would be the adult(s) they would chose to involve.
For this reason, community must be a resource for young people experiencing dating violence. Although parents need to talk and, more importantly, listen to their children, and develop sharing relationships around this topic, dating teens need to know how to help each other—because “each other” is who teens reach out and disclose to first. Young people need to know the signs that a relationship has entered a “danger zone”; like all victims, they need to know that abuse is not the victim’s fault, that no one deserves violence, and that help is available.
If we feel comfortable talking about healthy relationships, we can empower our children to be respectful partners, to speak up when they see a friend in trouble and be available to guide a friend (or themselves) to resources and safety if it is ever needed.
We can create wider circles of safety for the youth we care about, by increasing our knowledge about dating violence, listening to young people and taking their issues seriously, modeling respectful behavior in our own relationships and by supporting violence prevention programs in our communities.
Sojourner Project’s Community Education Program presents Healthy Relationships, Personal Safety and Dating Violence Prevention programs to area high schools and youth programs free of charge. Sojourner can also help parent groups learn to address the subject, not just with their teens, but with their children’s high schools and colleges. For more information, call 952-351-4062.

Judi Nelson is the coordinator of education and outreach at the Sojourner Project, a shelter and service center for victims of domestic violence in the west metro. For more information, visit sojournerproject.org.