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A Silent Epidemic

By Staff | Feb 1, 2012

Dating violence is a serious problem among teens and young adults. Whether you have or will have a teen in your home or if you are the grandparent of a teen, this is a topic worthy of your time and your attention.

According to a study conducted in 2008, one in three teenagers report knowing a friend or peer who has been hit, punched, kicked, slapped, choked or physically hurt by their partner. Sixty-two percent of tweens (age 11-14) who have been in a relationship claim they have friends who have been verbally abused (called stupid, worthless, ugly, etc.) by a boyfriend or girlfriend. Sadly, only half of tweens claim to know the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship.

Nearly one in five teenage girls who have been in a relationship said a boyfriend had threatened her with physical violence or self-harm if presented with a break-up. Nearly 80 percent of girls who have been physically abused in their intimate relationships continue to date their abuser.

Studies conducted by the National Center for Victims of Crime indicate that teen dating violence runs across race, gender, and socioeconomic lines. Males and females are both victims, however boys and girls are abusive in different ways.

Girls are more likely to yell, threaten to hurt themselves, pinch, slap, scratch, or kick. Boys injure girls more severely and more frequently.

But, because teens are less likely than any other age group to report the crimes against them, the dating violence problem may be even greater than these alarming statistics suggest.

The teen victims who do acknowledge they are a part of a violent relationship face a number of obstacles when seeking assistance. Although most communities support and respond to domestic violence, dating violence victims are often inadequately supported.

For teens and young adults, the only available help may be adult-focused services that teens are unlikely to find accessible or friendly. Few domestic violence shelters accept teens (as the primary victims), and parental consent laws complicate delivery of medical, mental health, and other services.

Further complicating matters for victims and service providers is that many dating violence victims are not protected by domestic violence laws unless they have lived with and/or have a child with their alleged abuser.

Protection orders can prevent an abuser from harming the victim, and they are readily available resources for adult victims of domestic violence. However, teen dating violence victims do not have the same access. Although teens have the right to obtain these services through the court, a parent or guardian is required to file the petition for a protection order on behalf of the teen, making it less likely that some teen victims will choose this as an option for addressing the violence in their lives.

In observance of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, the Tyler Star News will be addressing common behaviors of this widespread epidemic among teenagers with a series of hard-hitting articles. The first feature story in this series can be found on page 2 of this week’s newspaper.

If you or someone you know is involved in a violent relationship, please seek help. There are Web sites and hotlines dedicated to the issue of “teen dating violence” and resources available locally to put an end to the abuse.

Teens are urged to talk to their parents. Likewise, parents are encouraged to ask the “tough questions” and offer support to teens involved in unhealthy relationships.

Tyler County Victim Services Coordinator Toni VanCamp is available for consultation by calling 304-758-0869. All services offered by the Victim’s Advocate office are free and confidential and are available without regard to age, sex, race, religion, national origin, political affiliation, sexual orientation, or disability.

Additional help is available by calling the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline toll-free at 1-866-331-9474.