You may have noticed an increase in jewelers, flower companies and restaurants reminding you that we’re just weeks away from our annual focus on that four letter word: LOVE. Yes, February is almost here, and that means Valentine’s Day. Not unrelated, it is also Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Delaware proud: In February 2006, Delaware advocates led the country by being the first state to dedicate a full month as Teen Dating Violence Awareness & Prevention Month. In 2010 and ever since, both Houses of Congress and the President have declared February National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (TDVAM). So what does dating violence have to do with LOVE, you ask? Everything and nothing:
Everything because we look for love in relationships and people who are abusive
minimize or even justify abuse in the name of love. At the extreme, “I love her so much, no one else can have her” is a common (possessive) dangerous thought
that we later read about in a tragic news headline.
Nothing because love doesn’t mean controlling someone. Dating violence involves any pattern of behavior used in a dating relationship to hurt, have power or maintain control over a dating partner.
In the most recently available data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (2013), as many as 18% of high school students who had dated, reported physical or sexual dating abuse in the 12 months prior to the study. And alarmingly, the study definitions are very specific: “being hit, slammed into something, or injured with an object or weapon on purpose; kissing, touching, or being physically forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to by someone they were dating or going out with”. The numbers become more alarming given that they don’t include some of the more common abusive behaviors: manipulation, verbal abuse, checking partner’s phone/email/social media accounts, limiting activities or friendships, threats, public humiliation, grabbing, shoving, coercing recorded sexual encounters, stalking, etc. Verbal and emotional abuse are almost always present, and abusive behavior escalates in severity over time: what starts as innocent texts to say hi or chat become constant calls & texts whenever you’re apart; “playfully” asking who you’re out with becomes checking your phone, extreme jealousy and anger when you’re with others; interrogating you about the “likes” on your social media posts, isolating you from your friends, family or activities you love; grabbing or shoving you during an argument; threatening to kill him/herself if you break up; showing up wherever you are, and so on.
Adolescent relationships serve as preparation for adult relationships, and therefore, can impact more than the high school & college years, laying the foundation, solid or rocky, for the future. Adolescence itself is a risk factor for dating violence, making all young people vulnerable. During this developmental stage, there is relative inexperience with relationships, a lot of trial and error, all while seeking independence from the adults in their lives. Young people are forming their identity and highly influenced by peer norms; norms focused on being part of a couple (especially for young women), norms encouraging them to “prove” their love, norms telling young men that they should “wear the pants in the relationship” or to keep their partner “in check”, norms supporting jealousy and possessiveness as signs of love. In other words, norms encouraging abusive relationships.
Start the conversation. Visit www.loveisrespect.org for ideas, resources, and a live chat option. To learn about Delaware initiatives aimed at preventing dating violence or to get involved, visit www.safeandrespectful.org or www.realrelationshipsde.org, where high school students can enter the TDVAPM Instagram contest with photos that demonstrate communication, equality, trust, or acceptance.