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Teen Relationship Violence – Is your Child a Victim?

Mary is a single mother and has been raising her seventeen year old daughter, Jill, by herself.  Lately, Jill has been coming home from school every day in a bad mood. The old Jill would bolt into the house, throw her books on the table and give her mom a big hug.  Now she goes directly to her room and locks herself away for hours.  Jill’s puzzling behavior worries Mary.  Her daughter has always been a happy, energetic girl who engaged in sports; managed straight A’s in school and a very popular student among classmates and teachers alike.  But in the last few months, Jill’s personality has gone from sunny and vivacious to darkly intense and moody.  Jill’s grades have also dropped to C’s and D’s; she has quit the soccer team and has isolated herself from her friends and family.  Mary constantly hears Jill arguing and crying on the phone with her boyfriend, Max, from behind closed doors of her room.  Mary really can’t hear what the fight is about, but whatever it is, the arguments are happening every day, several times a day.  Jill started going out with Max about 3 months ago, and he seemed like a nice boy, very attentive and caring.  Max seemed to become attached to Jill instantaneously, and the two of them became an “item” almost overnight.  They spent so much time together, Jill barely took the time to eat dinner or complete her homework.  Mary gently lectured Jill several times about spending too much time with Max and that she has been neglecting her studies, her friends and her family. Jill, extremely defensive about her relationship, tells her mom to “mind her own business.”  Mary is hurt by Jill’s disrespectful attitude, but she chalks it up to teenage hormones and leaves it at that.

A few more months go by, and Jill is cold and distant to everyone around her, except Max.  Mary is extremely concerned about Jill, and she calls the counselor at school and discusses her daughter’s recent change in behavior.  The counselor reinforces the “teenage hormone” theory and tells Mary not to worry about it, and that Jill will eventually snap out of it.  Then one day, Mary gets a phone call from the police.  Jill has been severely beaten by her boyfriend, and she is in the hospital under intensive care.    Mary rushes to the hospital, and the doctors inform her that although Jill should make a full recovery, she will need extensive therapy to heal not only physically, but also emotionally.  Since Max is considered a minor, he is sentenced to Juvenile Hall for the remainder of his school year and will continue on with probation for two years after that.  Max gets a slap on the hand, Jill’s life is in ruins, and Mary tearfully wonders how could she have let this happen to her daughter?  Why didn’t she see the signs that Jill was in a violent relationship sooner? 

According to the US Dept. of Justice, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Liz Claiborne Inc. teen dating violence survey, 1 in 5 high school girls is physically and sexually hurt by a dating partner.  These statistics are shocking, and they should serve as a wake-up call to communities across the country that the epidemic of teen relationship violence is very much a reality.  Many parents, like Mary, are unaware that their child is in an abusive relationship until it is too late.  Today’s economy has dictated that both parents need to work, which rarely leaves an adult around to pay attention to what is going on with their children. That being said, awareness regarding teen relationship violence has to be disseminated to the public on the same national level as domestic and intimate violence.

The circulation of information regarding teen relationship violence needs to begin at home and within the school system.  It is critical that High Schools and Middle Schools across the United States incorporate a mandatory policy for both teachers and students to attend a course that educates them on relationship violence, the warning signs of abuse, and how to prevent this growing issue among our kids.  Teen relationship violence can happen to anyone and because of the immaturity of the victims; they don't even realize that it is happening to them.  Women and girls between the ages of 16 and 24 are the highest risk factors in experiencing relationship violence.  Teen girls are much for susceptible to intimate partner violence, and they are 3 times more likely to be involved in an abusive relationship than adult women.   Only 33% of teens who were either involved in a violent dating relationship or knew of one communicated it to family or friends.  Sadly, relationship violence is a vicious pattern of control and abusive behavior that can manifest itself verbally, sexually, emotionally, financially and physically.  Relationship violence is not prejudice to race, color, economic status, sexual orientation or cultural upbringing.  It is a serious social issue that is having a devastating effect on our school system, our core family unit, and on the well-being of our children.

It is critical that teens are educated on the warning signs that may indicate they are in an abusive relationship with their partner.  Controlling behavior, intense jealousy, threats of violence, stalking, verbal and sexual abuse is symptoms of an unhealthy pattern within a relationship.  The cycle of abusive behavior and the “in-denial” type of reaction from the victim can go on for months until the perpetrator has total control over the relationship.  The abuser sucks the victim in with compliments, gifts and loving words and then demands a commitment.  The victim gives in, and slowly but surely, the abuse begins.  As the relationship continues, the mistreatment becomes worse until it escalates.  The abuser begs for forgiveness and the victim gives in wanting to believe the lies and promises.  The cycle continues until the victim is so beaten down and fearful, there is no motivation to leave and will change their own behavior to avoid the abuser’s rage.  The abuser isolates the victim from friends and family so that eventually there is no longer a support system in place to get help.  Over the course of the cycle, the victim is beaten down psychologically and made to feel worthless and insignificant.  Statistics reveal that the average number of times the victim will return to the abuser is around seven times before they end the relationship for good.  Unfortunately, there are many victims who never leave and either suffers the abuse for years to come or eventually may be killed by their abuser.

The state of Rhode Island is helping to set a precedence to support and educate their local communities in the prevention of relationship violence.  Lindsay Anne Burke, a 23 old Rhode Island College graduate, was murdered while trying to escape her own vicious cycle of violence.  Lindsay’s mom was devastated by her daughter’s death, but she used her grief to start a non-profit organization to fund efforts in the prevention of relationship violence through education and awareness.1  

It is imperative that teens are taught that abusive behavior is unacceptable in any manner and that no one deserves to be threatened or mistreated.  Victims of abuse need to understand that they cannot change the abuser’s destructive behavior and that the violence will only worsen. Victims should never be ashamed to seek assistance either by calling the toll free numbers listed below or by speaking with an adult or a local agency that provides a safe haven for domestic violence survivors.  For resource hotline numbers in each state, visit www.stingergirlz.com and click on the category, “Victims of Violence Resources,” and then click on “Hotline Numbers.”


For Immediate Assistance

If you or someone you know is a victim, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline:  <쁜࿭>          1-800-799-SAFE     or visit their website: www.ndvh.org

Teen victims can also call the National Teen Dating Violence Hotline:<쁜࿭>          1-866-331-9474      or visit their website at www.loveisrespect.org

1The Lindsay Ann Burke Memorial Fund is a non-profit 501(c )(3) charitable corporation. All donations are tax deductible and directly support our mission of ending relationship violence through education. We have no paid staff. Our workshops to train middle and high school health teachers, school staff and parents are made possible by your donations. In addition, we provide free educational and curriculum materials to Rhode Island workshop participants and trained health teachers in Rhode Island.  Visit http://labmf.org/ for more information on teen relationship violence and how you can help stop it.


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