MOUNT VERNON — Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Mavis, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and the U.S. Senate have issued proclamations recognizing Feb. 2 through 6 as Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Week.
Dating abuse, according to New Directions executive director Mary Hendrickson, is defined as a pattern of controlling behavior used against a boyfriend or girlfriend. It happens to both males and females, regardless of race, religion, socioeconomic status or sexual orientation.
The national statistics are disturbing, and, Hendrickson said, the reported incidences of teen dating violence in Knox County come close to the national average:
•One in three female teenagers in a dating relationship has feared for her physical safety when with a partner.
•One in five teenagers in a serious relationship reports having been hit, slapped or pushed by a partner.
•In the state of Ohio, 13 percent of high school females have been physically forced to have sexual intercourse.
Physically abusive behaviors can also include shaking, throwing things, choking and using a weapon to control a partner.
Dating abuse can be emotional as well as physical. Emotional abuse can include name-calling and put-downs, trying to isolate one’s girlfriend or boyfriend from friends and family, blaming the girlfriend or boyfriend for their own actions and ignoring a date’s feelings. Insulting a date’s beliefs or values, displaying inappropriate anger humiliating a date in public or private and threatening to hurt oneself are also forms of emotional abuse.
Harassing through the Internet or text messaging is another form of emotional abuse. National data indicate that 30 percent of teenagers who have been in a dating relationship say that they have been text-messaged between 10 and 30 times per hour by a partner seeking to find out where they are, what they are doing or who they are with.
“Love is not control,” Hendrickson said.
While dating abuse can be physical or emotional, it can also be sexual.
“No means no,” said Hendrickson, “and someone who loves you will not pressure you to go further sexually than you are ready. Fifty-six percent of teenage girls who are raped are raped by a date. Another 13 percent are raped by a friend and 11 percent by a [steady] boyfriend. Use good judgment and keep yourself safe.”
Teen Dating Bill of Rights
In observance of Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Week, students are asked to participate in the teen dating bill of rights, which follows.
I have the right:
To always be treated with respect.
To be in a healthy relationship.
To not be hurt physically or emotionally.
To refuse sex or affection at any time.
To have friends and activities apart from my boyfriend or girlfriend.
To end a relationship.
I pledge to:
Always treat my boyfriend or girlfriend with respect.
Never hurt my girlfriend or boyfriend physically, verbally or emotionally.
Respect my girlfriend’s or boyfriend’s decisions concerning sex and affection.
Not be controlling or manipulative in my relationship.
Accept responsibility for myself and my actions.
Violent relationships in adolescence can have serious ramifications for victims, putting them at higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior, suicide and adult re-victimization.
Teen dating violence is a serious, sometimes life-threatening issue, and victims need to get help. For those who are unable to talk with family or friends about their situation, the National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline number is (866) 331-9474, and New Directions has a 24-hour helpline at 397-HELP. Hendrickson reminds teens that in an emergency they can also call 9-1-1.
The most important ways parents can help prevent dating abuse is to keep communication channels with their children open and to encourage their self-esteem. They can also help by modeling healthy relationships at home, talking with their children about healthy relationships and positive ways to resolve conflicts and emphasizing that abuse is not about love.
Parents should also be alert for signs of dating abuse. According to Hendrickson, the child may be in an abusive dating relationship if he or she:
•Has a dating partner who is intensely jealous or possessive.
•Has unexplained marks on his or her body such as bruises. scratches or burns.
•Is always deferring to his or her partner’s wishes.
•Is increasingly isolated from family and friends.
•Gets visibly upset after phone calls or dates with his or her dating partner.
•Is afraid to make his or her partner angry.
If parents suspect dating abuse, they need to take the situation seriously and take action. New Directions literature advises parents to:
•Tell the child you believe and support him or her.
•Help the teen to develop a safety plan.
•Get involved, set boundaries and limits and follow through on those limits.
•Take legal action against the perpetuator, (check with your local domestic violence crisis center).
•Encourage the child to seek professional help at the local domestic violence crisis center.
•Above all, seek help from school personnel, the child’s friends or professionals such as those at a local domestic violence shelter such as New Directions or mental health service.
If the teen is having difficulty leaving the abusive relationship, it is even more important for the parent to express love, concern, and confidence and to avoid trying to control the child.