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Preventing teen dating violence

By Jana Gill
Special to The SUN

Now that it’s February, love is in the air and it’s time to get ready for Valentine’s Day.

In the midst of the valentines, flowers and candy, let’s make sure that there’s mutual respect and kindness, too.

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month — the perfect opportunity for adults to model healthy relationships and for teens to learn that real love is respectful, compassionate and honest, not controlling, hurtful and abusive. Join the Archuleta County Victim’s Assistance Program (ACVAP) in making sure this Valentine’s Day is a safe one for our kids.

Violence in relationships can start early and tends to escalate over time. According to the 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, almost 1.5 million high school students (about 10 percent) reported being intentionally and physically hurt by their boyfriend or girlfriend.

A 2010 Center for Disease Control and Prevention study found that, of those who were raped, physically assaulted or stalked by an intimate partner, one in five women and nearly one in seven men first experienced some form of partner violence between the ages of 11 and 17. One in three adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a figure that far exceeds rates of other types of youth violence.

Dating violence, like domestic violence, is a pattern of abusive behaviors used to exert power and control over a partner. Although most dating violence occurs in a boyfriend-attacker/girlfriend-target relationship, abuse can happen in many different kinds of partnerships. A boyfriend could be the target of abuse, and a partner in a same-sex relationship can be abusive.

Do you know the warning signs and how to help your teen be safe? Signs of abuse in relationships can be subtle. Here are some behaviors in a teen relationship (or any relationship) that might signal trouble:

Monitors what partner is doing all the time.

Constantly and unfairly accuses partner of being unfaithful.

Prevents or discourages partner from seeing friends or family.

Prevents or discourages partner from going to work or school.

Gets very angry during and after drinking alcohol or using drugs.

Controls how partner spends money.

Decides what partner should wear or eat.

Humiliates partner in front of others.

Destroys partner’s property or things that partner cares about.

Threatens to hurt partner.

Physically hurts partner (by hitting, pushing, shoving, punching, slapping, kicking, pinching or biting).

Uses (or threatens to use) a weapon against partner.

Forces partner to have sex against her will.

Controls birth control decisions or insists that she get pregnant.

Blames partner for own violent outbursts.

Threatens to harm self when upset with partner.

Says things like, “If I can’t have you then no one can.”

How to help: Alternative Horizons of Durango offers the LOVES acronym (Listen, Options, Value, Empower, Safety):

Listen — Quietly listen to their whole story, be understanding and non-judgmental.

Options — Give them resources such as ACVAP’s hotline, other trusted adults that they can talk with, especially if they’re not comfortable talking with you, like a school counselor, teacher or coach. In a dangerous situation, contact law enforcement at 911; a protective order may be necessary.

Value — Tell them how much you care about them. Tell them “It’s not your fault,” “You don’t deserve this,” or “You deserve to have respect/communication/trust in your relationship.” Focus on them, not the abuser. Talk with teens about and model self-respect and healthy relationships. We are all worthy of love and respect.

Empower — A teen’s self-esteem and confidence may have been lowered by the abusive partner. Let them make their own decisions whenever possible, be there to support them or go with them to talk with other adults, give them options, but don’t tell them what to do.

Safety — Help them to take whatever safety measures are necessary. Talk to an advocate about how to keep them safe, and safety plans. Safety plans can include support from friends and options for remaining safe at school.

To talk about a safety plan, call ACVAP’s 24-hour hotline at 264-9075.

Other resources:

• Alternative Horizons, Durango, alternativehorizons.org, 247-9619 (24/7 hotline, en ieglés y espanol).

• National Dating Abuse Helpline, loveisrespect.org (24/7 confidential, peer-led support — phone, text or chat).

• breakthecycle.org.

• VAWnet.org, a project of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence.

• teendvmonth.org.

• National Domestic Violence Hotline, ( 800) 799-SAFE.

This story was posted on February 7, 2013.