Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month sheds light on abuse prevention

Dawn Stallings, Onslow Women’s Center education and volunteer coordinator, and Nora Vargas, Onslow Women’s Center sexual assault and hispanic outreach advocate in their office Jan. 26 at the Onslow Women’s Center.

Year in Review - FEB. 1, 2018

Welcome to the February edition of Raising Healthy Minds. Adolescence can be a tumultuous time as many changes in life take place.

Relationships are yet another facet of life that can undergo change, and one parents and teens might have angst over.

While one might typically think of domestic violence pertaining to adult relationships, violence in teen relationships also occurs. February is marked as Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.

It’s an effort to bring attention to this prevalent issue. According to a statistic from www. loveisrespect.org, one in three adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner.

There are some ways to identify and prevent dating violence in your teens.

“It is important to define teen dating violence,” said Dawn Stallings, Onslow Women’s Center education and volunteer coordinator. “Teen dating violence is an intentional, deliberate pattern of abuse that one partner uses against the other.”

One might think of physical abuse when hearing ‘violence.’ Stallings noted that it is important to recognize abuse in all of its types.

“There is emotional, verbal and sexual abuse,” said Stallings. “With teens, we also need to look at stalking and digital forms. Even financial abuse can come into play.”

These forms of abuse are not just seen in teens, however. They can persist in adults, making the concern to stop the abuse cycle in the teen years more important to parents and care professionals.

“If abuse starts in the teenage years, then people grow up into adults thinking this is normal in a relationship,” said Nora Vargas, Onslow Women’s Center sexual assault and Hispanic outreach advocate. “Reaching them while they’re teens can allow us to plant a little seed in their head. When they become adults, they can recognize this is not what a healthy relationship looks like.”

Young women aged 16 to 24 are at a particularly high risk, with their averages for experiencing abuse from an intimate partner being approximately three times the national average, according to dosomething.org.

The concern of violence does not stop at the in-person level, however. Social media and its usage in abuse has become a topic of interest for care professionals.

“Unfortunately, social media is being used as a weapon,” said Stallings. “It is used as another way to keep tabs and control on a person when you are not physically together. It allows for 24-7 contact, which is a huge deal in these cases. With past technologies, we didn’t have this concern so we need to recognize it now.”

The concerns of social media being used as a weapon extends even after a break-up from an abuser.

“The abuser feels a need to gain control back after the break-up,” said Vargas. “The mindset is, ‘I will put him or her on blast on social media so others can see what type of person they are.’ We have teens even being driven to suicide because of social media being used for revenge like this. Parents really need to be supportive during those times after a break-up.”

There are warning signs parents and caregivers can look for in their teens that indicate abuse may be occurring.

“It’s not just the physical signs like a bruise,” said Stallings. “Even physical signs can often occur on concealed areas. You should look for changes in behavior like lack of spending time with friends, or not participating in activities they once did.”

The warning signs can also be more internal rather than external.

“Depression and isolation also occur in these cases,” said Vargas. “Some sort of substance abuse may take place so they can numb the feelings they’re having.”

As with other situations, prevention is a key focus of care providers. According to Stallings, parents need to talk with their teens about how their relationships are going.

Parents should not just accept yes or no answers, but dig deeper and get their teen to elaborate.

“I use current events to get teens to open up about the subject,” said Stallings. “I’ll ask them how they feel about related issues that might be trending so I can see how they respond.”

Educational resources are available to assist parents. Organizations like the Onslow Women’s Center present a curriculum to adolescents in public schools to discuss both relationship health and what abuse looks like.

“It is crucial though for parents to be actively involved in things your teen does,” said Vargas. “You need to show them abuse is not normal and that they have a support system.”

For teens and parents looking for more information on teen dating violence, visit www.loveisrespect.org/resources/teendvmonth.