Drawing Attention to the Urgency of Teen Dating Violence Prevention
by Lisa Fujie Parks, California Partnership to End Domestic Violence
Five days before Cindi Santana was stabbed to death at South East High School in South Gate, California in December 2011, her ex-boyfriend, Abraham Lopez, was arrested for making a criminal threat against her. Santana’s mother notified South East High School when Lopez was released on bail, and campus security was informed of the potential threat. Yet three days later, Cindi was stabbed multiple times during lunch, allegedly by Lopez. Cindi’s death was a tragic wakeup call to all families, schools and communities in California to strengthen school and community responses to teen dating violence, also known as dating abuse.
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (TDVAPM) – a national effort to raise awareness about abuse in youth relationships and mobilize communities to support young people in having safe and healthy relationships. Sadly, just as the month began, Myrna Umanzor, 15, a teen mom from San Leandro, California was murdered, allegedly by her 19 year old boyfriend, who took his own life the next day.
We mourn the tragic loss of life in South Gate, San Leandro, and other communities throughout the country, as we join with thousands working to engage youth and reach new audiences through Proclamations, educational events, media outreach, and other efforts. Although we cannot accomplish all of our strategic goals in one short month, these focused efforts will help elevate community understanding of the issues and solutions.
What is dating abuse?
Dating abuse is the use of physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, or technological abuse by a person to harm, threaten, intimidate, or control a dating partner, regardless of whether that relationship is continuing or has concluded, or the number of interactions between the individuals involved. One in four adolescents reports verbal, emotional, physical or sexual dating violence each year. 15-40% of youth report perpetrating violence toward a dating partner. Adolescents and young adults experience the highest degree of intimate violence of any age group, and young women ages 16-24 are most likely to be victimized. Among these women, pregnant and parenting teen mothers are especially vulnerable.
Dating abuse is associated with a host of adverse outcomes, including truancy, use of alcohol and drugs, eating disorders, depression and suicide. A substantial number of incidents occur on school campuses, threatening the safety of students and staff, distracting students from learning, and compromising the school climate. Yet, the distinctive aspects of dating abuse make it one of the most overlooked forms of violence. Many young victims do not recognize warning signs and confuse controlling behaviors as a sign of care. Fear and shame discourage victims from seeking help, and when they do, adults often minimize the potential for harm, unaware of the danger of increasing frequency and severity of abuse over time, and the heightened risk for physical violence during or after a break up.
Offering age-appropriate support
Young people who are being abused or being abusive, may not identify their experience as “abuse.” Conversations can be focused on the right to have boundaries respected and to be free from control. And conversely, it’s important to model and teach how emotions and conflict can be addressed while respecting boundaries and the right to a partner’s autonomy. When speaking with teens, it’s important to assure confidentiality, be non-judgmental and empathetic, apply harm reduction principles, and have current information for referral agencies and community resources on hand. And remember, during and after a break-up is the most dangerous time when the likelihood of physical violence increases.
What you can do during TDVAPM
Please use this month as an opportunity to build your knowledge, strengthen partnerships and help draw attention to dating abuse:
- Spread the word! Sample Facebook posts and Twitter tweets can be found at www.cpedv.org/tdvapm.
- Build your knowledge! Online professional learning opportunities during the month of February can be found here. Additional resources can be found on the Healthy Teen Network website.
- Link to Black History Month! African American youth are overrepresented as victims of dating abuse. Honor Black History Month and TDVAPM and support our back youth in February and beyond!
- Educate and engage teens and parents! Useful websites with resources and curriculum can be found at www.cpedv.org/tdvapm.
- Strengthen partnerships! Year round, we encourage teen pregnancy prevention programs to partner with local domestic violence programs and adolescent health and mental health providers, youth, parents, educators and other stakeholders.
- Stay Connected! Sign up for the Partnership’s Prevention Digest to stay abreast of teen dating violence prevention projects, resources and opportunities in California.
The California Partnership to End Domestic Violence’s Prevention Program advances effective teen dating violence prevention policies and programs through leadership, advocacy and a statewide network of prevention advocates dedicated to promoting healthy relationships and preventing teen dating violence. For more information about the Partnership’s efforts to address dating abuse, please contact Lisa Fujie Parks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 916-444-7163 x117.
Finally, if you know of a teen or parent that could benefit from speaking to a caring, well-trained peer advocate, please connect them with the National Dating Abuse Helpline, a project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, at 866-331-9474 (TTY: 1-866-331-8453), by texting “loveis” to 77054, or through live chat at loveisrespect.org.