February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month and is a good time for teens and their parents to talk about healthy and unhealthy behaviors in a relationship, said Janette Wheat, a professor at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and Cooperative Extension Program Human Development Specialist.
Teen dating violence can be prevented when teens, families, organizations and communities work together to implement effective prevention strategies.
Teen dating violence is a type of domestic violence that occurs between two people in a close relationship, Wheat said. It can be physical, emotional or sexual and can include harassment.
Teen dating violence can happen in person or electronically through text messages, social media, and other online applications. When occurring electronically, this type of violence can include repeatedly texting or posting sexual photos of a partner online without their consent.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teen dating violence includes four types of behavior:
• Physical abuse — when a person injures or tries to injure a partner by hitting, kicking or using another type of physical force.
• Sexual abuse — forcing or attempting to force a partner to participate in a sexual act, sexual touching, or a non-physical sexual event such as sexting when the partner does not or cannot consent.
• Psychological aggression — the use of verbal and non-verbal communication with the intent to harm another person mentally or emotionally and/or exert control over another person.
• Harassment – a pattern of repeated unwanted attention and contact by a partner that causes fear or concern for their own safety or the safety of someone close to the victim.
“Teenagers often think that certain behaviors, such as teasing and name-calling, are a ‘normal’ part of a relationship — but these behaviors can become abusive and escalate into serious forms of violence,” Wheat said. “Many teens don’t report unhealthy behavior because they’re afraid to tell family and friends about it.”
Dating violence is common and affects millions of teens in the United States each year. According to a recent national CDC survey, 8% of high school students reported physical abuse and 7% said they had experienced sexual abuse from a dating partner in the past year.
Data from the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey and the National Intimate Partners and Sexual Violence Survey indicate:
• Nearly 1 in 11 high school students and about 1 in 15 high school students report experiencing physical violence in a dating relationship in the past year.
• About one in nine female students and one in 36 male students report having been victims of sexual violence in their dating relationship in the past year.
• Twenty-six percent of women and 15% of men who have experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime have experienced these or other forms of violence. forms of violence by that partner before the age of 18.
The burden of teen dating violence is not shared equally among all groups. Sexual minority groups are much more affected by all forms of violence. Certain racial/ethnic minority groups are more often affected by many types of violence.
Wheat said unhealthy relationships can start early and last a lifetime. According to the CDC, teens who are victimized in high school are at a higher risk of victimization in college and into adulthood.
“VCT victims are more likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety,” Wheat said. “They may also engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, drug and alcohol use, and they may exhibit antisocial behaviors such as lying, stealing, bullying or hitting. Some victims also have thoughts suicidal.”
Supporting the development of healthy, respectful and non-violent relationships has the potential to reduce the frequency of adolescent dating violence and prevent its harmful and lasting effects on individuals, their families and the communities where they live, said wheat.
HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP SKILLS
“It’s critical that young people begin to learn the skills to create and sustain healthy relationships during the pre-adolescent and adolescent years,” she said. “These skills include things like how to deal with feelings and how to communicate in a healthy way.”
The CDC has developed “Dating Matters®: Strategies to Promote Healthy Teen Relationships” to stop teen dating violence before it starts. The program focuses on ages 11-14 and includes multiple prevention components for individuals, peers, families, schools and neighborhoods. All of the elements work together to reinforce messages about healthy relationships and reduce behaviors that increase the risk of dating violence.
The CDC’s Dating Matters program and technical brief on preventing intimate partner violence are available online at www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence. Other resources on the website include articles, publications, data sources and prevention materials.
“Teaching healthy relationships and changing norms about violence can help prevent teen dating violence,” Wheat said. “Talk to teens now about the importance of developing healthy, respectful relationships.”
Will Hehemann is a writer/editor in the UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Humanities.