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KFAM Newsletter

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By: Elizabeth Clark Rubio

Parents, if your child were in an abusive dating relationship, would you be able to recognize the signs? Would your teenager feel comfortable in approaching you about an abusive partner, and in the absence of a direct confession, would you have the knowledge to detect foul play? In a 2009 survey, 75% of parents reported having had a conversation with their kids about what it means to be in a healthy relationship, and 82% of those surveyed felt confident that they would be able to recognize it if their child were experiencing teen dating violence. When tested however, only 58% of those parents were able to correctly identify all signs of abuse. Finally, amongst the children of surveyed parents, only 74% of sons and 66% of daughters reported having had a conversation with parents about dating abuse, and only one-third of them stated that they would confide in their parents about abuse in a relationship[i].

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The Prevalence of Teen Dating Violence

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month and in our own effort to spread awareness and engage in prevention efforts, we write so that the KFAM community can learn how to detect, prevent, intervene in and access resources relating to teen dating violence. The statistics surrounding the prevalence of teen dating violence are shocking. Domestic and sexual violence amongst teens is more prevalent than it is in the general population. While young people between the ages of 12 and 19 experience the highest rates of sexual assault[ii], those between the ages of 18 and 19 experience the highest rates of stalking[iii]. One in three adolescent girls have suffered some form of abuse by a dating partner, making it the most common form of gender-based violence amongst youth[iv]. While male abusers were more likely to inflict serious injury on female partners than vice-versa, boys are also victims of physical dating violence. Finally, rates of teen dating abuse appear to be similar in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships[v].

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What Does Teen Dating Violence Look Like?

Many of the warning signs of dating violence amongst teens are similar to those that occur in interpersonal violence amongst adults. As is the case with any sort of domestic violence, the most important thing to remember is that not all forms of violence are physical. Non-physical abusive acts include constantly checking the partner’s cell phone, making disparaging comments, expressing jealousy, showing an explosive temper, prohibiting the victim from spending time with family and friends, dictating which activities the victim may participate in and controlling their whereabouts.

Still, given the vulnerable age of both perpetrators and victims of teen-dating violence, there are specific challenges that hinder identifying, intervening in and helping the teen out of the abusive situation. The Santa Clara County-based organization Asian Women’s Home has identified some of these challenges (see http://dv.aaci.org/teen-dating-violence/). The following list includes but is by no means exhaustive of these challenges: 1) A lack of prior experience with healthy dating relationships may cause some teens to interpret abusive acts as a normal part of a loving relationship. Romanticized views of love and sacrifice may cause them to confuse extreme jealousy with love. 2) A desire to assert independence from parents may cause some teens to keep their victimization secret. 3) In settings like middle school and high school, concerns about reputation and popularity create stress about conforming to peer pressure. If the abuser is well respected by peers, the victim may feel isolated and believe that others won’t support or believe him/her. 4) Finally, teens are especially vulnerable to the influence of popular culture, which, more often than not, engages in rampant objectification of women and the teaching of traditional gender roles that position men as aggressive and women as submissive. This concern is especially prevalent amongst Asian women, who in U.S. popular culture are often represented as extremely docile, and willing to comply with any and all demands made by male partners. A quick Google image search of  “Asian women” reveals the kinds of demeaning images with which we are frequently associated.

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Safety Planning and Getting Help

KFAM offers holistic support for victims of teen dating violence with a dual focus on prevention and intervention/rehabilitation. Prevention efforts include Teen Domestic Violence Seminars in which individuals can learn more about the dynamics and warning signs of teen dating violence, as well as the resources available to those in need. If you, your child, or any other loved one is experiencing teen dating violence, please call KFAM’s hotline at 888-979-3800 to seek support.

If you or your child is not yet ready to take the steps to get help, there are important safety planning measures you can take in the meantime. Leaving an abusive partner can be a protracted, complicated and dangerous experience. Engaging in the following safety planning activities can minimize risk for those who continue to suffer from teen dating violence: 1) Avoid being with your partner alone. Try to plan group outings in public. 2) Tell others your plans – let them know where you are, what time you are supposed to be back and how to contact you. 3) Try not to depend on your partner – bring your own money, cell phone and find your own ride 4) When at school:

  1. Tell school personnel about the violence and about the possibility of switching schedules so as not risk harassment by the abuser in class.
  2. Avoid being alone – ask friends to accompany you to class, extra curricular activities, etc…
  3. Change daily routine, like where you hang out.
  4. Change e-mail, phone number and privatize social media profiles

Finally, if and when you decide to break up with your public, do it in public and make others aware of your plans.

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[i] Impact of the Economy and Parent/Teen Dialogue on Dating Relationships and Abuse. 2009. Conducted
by Teenage Research Unlimited for the Family Violence Prevention Fund and Liz Claiborne. Available at
http://www.loveisnotabuse.com/pdf/Liz%20Claiborne%20Teen%20Dating%20Abuse%20and%20the%20
Economy%20Research%20RPT.pdf.
[ii] Truman, Jennifer and Rand, Michael. 2010. Criminal Victimization, 2009. U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics. Available at http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/cv09.pdf.
[iii] Baum, Katrina, Catalano, Shannan, Rand, Michael and Rose, Kristina. 2009. Stalking Victimization in the United States. U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics. Available at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/svus.pdf.
[iv] Davis, Antoinette, MPH. 2008. Interpersonal and Physical Dating Violence among Teens. The National Council on Crime and Delinquency Focus. Available at http://www.nccd-crc.org/nccd/pubs/2008_focus_teen_dating_violence.pdf.
[v] Halpern CT, Young ML, Waller MW, Martin SL & Kupper LL. 2004. Prevalence of Partner Violence in Same-Sex Romantic and Sexual Relationships in a National Sample of Adolescents.Journal of Adolescent Health. 35(2): 124-131.