Domestic Abuse Misconception #24: Abuse is an adult problem. The truth is that one in three teenagers is the victim of some form of abuse by a dating partner. In fact, the 16-24 age range has the highest percentage of intimate partner violence.
This week I had the privilege of observing a Helpmate (our local domestic violence organization) staff member teaching ninth graders about relationships: healthy, unhealthy, and abusive. It was amazing and eye-opening. Some of these kids had already been in, or were currently in, abusive relationships.
I couldn't help but think of myself at that age...just how incredibly insecure I was. Eager for somebody, anybody, to sweep me off my feet and tell me they loved me. I was a sitting duck. An easy target for someone who could have exerted way more power and control in my life than was rightfully theirs.
It is, after all, such an incredibly vulnerable age. Braces and hormones and changing bodies and social standing...all that teenage angst rolled up into blue jean wearing, hoodie clad, walking acne factory.
Here are some statistics from the organization Love Is Respect that are staggering.
-1 in 10 high school students have been physically hurt by a dating partner
-Violent behavior often begins between ages 12-18 and when it begins at that young of an age it is more pervasive.
-Violent relationships put the victim at a higher risk for drug and alcohol abuse, risky sexual behavior, eating disorders, and future domestic violence.
-Being sexually or physically abused makes teen girls 6 times more likely to become pregnant and twice as likely to contract a sexually transmitted illness.
-Half of teens who have been physically abused and raped will attempt suicide.
-Only 33% of teens ever told anybody about the abuse.
It was fascinating to watch the students process the concepts of what are healthy vs. abusive characteristics of a dating partner, what consent actually is and isn't, when to leave a relationship, who to tell, how to break up, how to get help. It was encouraging to hear that some teens have actually chosen to break up from a violent dating partner in front of the school counselor. That the school counselor or social worker can help them make a safety plan. That the school actually works with the student to keep him or her safe, even when it may mean changing up schedules so the victim doesn't have to be in the same class with a violent ex (typically when a restraining order is involved).
It was encouraging to hear that there is support out there. That teens can call Helpmate and access all of Helpmate's resources, except the shelter, even if they are under 18. That with the organization Love Is Respect, a teen can call, text, or chat online with a peer counselor who can help.
When I spoke with the Helpmate staff who taught the class she said that she knows that this information isn't going to change the abuser but she hopes that it will change the culture of the other teens so that they are looking for red flags and have the courage to speak up and to support their friends who might be in abusive relationships.
Here is a link to Love Is Respect. I found this site to be full of great information.(Note: In all of my posts I use "he" for abuser and "she" for victim for simplicity and because, in the majority of cases, the abuser is male. But it can be the opposite with a female abuser. Dynamics of abuse can also happen in same sex relationships.)