Changing the Conversation about Teen Dating Violence

When you are five and a little boy pushes you on the playground or pulls your hair, people say, “Oh, that just means he likes you!”

When you are ten and a boy in your class trips you as you are walking in the hall, it’s not called bullying, people say, “Boys will be boys.”

When you are fifteen and your boyfriend insults you, and grabs your arm when you try to walk away, people say, “It’s not that serious, teenagers still do not fully understand love.”

When you are twenty and your partner shoots you when you try to leave him, people ask, “How could this happen?”

As a facilitator of the Youth Violence Prevention [YVP] curriculum, I hear these messages and see harmful attitudes that allow teen dating violence or teen relationship violence to persist. We teach kids and teenagers from an early age to discount and discredit dating violence either as a sign of affection or as an insignificant incident. Then, we wonder how South Carolina remains first in the nation for the number of women murdered by men, a rate more than double the national average. Teen dating violence or teen relationship violence is a known precursor to intimate partner violence in adulthood. Thus, if we want to change our state, we have to start with our kids and teenagers.

On average one in three adolescents report experiencing teen dating violence, which entails a pattern of behavior, which can, but does not always include, physical violence. This pattern of behavior includes some combination of physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual abuse used by one person in an intimate relationship to exert power and control over their partner. While the example at the beginning of this post identifies the perpetrator as male, it is important to note that both men and women experience relationship violence and perpetrate that violence towards someone they claim to love. Furthermore, this violent behavior typically begins young, starting anywhere from ages 12 to 18  According to the CDC’s National Intimate Partner Violence Survey, 71 percent of women and 58 percent of men first experiencing some form of intimate partner violence (IPV) before turning 25, with 23 percent of females and 14 percent of males experiencing IPV prior to turning 18.

Despite this prevalence, we know only 33 percent of teenagers involved in a violent relationship ever tell someone about the abuse. Why? Because boys will be boys, right? Because real men do not let women push them around and only punks would get upset if women called them names and put them down, right? WRONG! Instead, we need to do better and teach teenagers and children that love does not hurt and how to help someone in need.

Currently, STSM’s YVP curriculum works to teach middle and high school students about the problems with these gender stereotypes and provides them with necessary skills in communication and boundary setting to promote healthy relationships. Students learn not only to recognize warning signs of unhealthy relationships, but techniques for reducing risks in relationships and learning bystander intervention techniques to help friends and classmates in need. Additionally, currently in the state legislature, S. 169, seeks to mandate some form of effective, prevention education for individuals in sixth through twelfth grade, along with other stipulations as a means to protect and empower victims and survivors of teen dating violence.

How can you make a difference? You can share this blog on social media and tell friends about the issue of teen dating violence. Also, write or call your state senator and tell them to support legislation related to preventing teen dating violence. Finally, support STSM by volunteering, participating in our events, or donating to help us create a community free from violence.

Rebecca Geiger

Rebecca Geiger works as a Prevention Education Contractor for STSM. Starting as an intern in September 2015, Rebecca was promoted in April 2016 to her current position in recognition of the quality of her community education and advocacy skills regarding gender rights and preventing sexual assault. She facilitates the Youth Violence Prevention (YVP) Curriculum in local secondary schools and has assisted with other work in the Community Education and Outreach Department, including training new YVP facilitators and evaluating the curriculum and facilitator training, which entailed writing revisions for STSM’s YVP curriculum. Currently pursuing her Masters degree at the University of South Carolina, Rebecca will receive her Masters of Social Work and Certificate in Women and Gender Studies in May 2017.