By Candice Christiansen, LCMHC, CSAT-S
When we think of intimate partner violence we often forget that teens and young adults in dating relationships can fall victim to this type of abuse. In fact, girls and young women are often victimized via verbal, emotional, physical and sexual abuse in their dating relationships. According to some disturbing research:
- Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence — almost triple the national average
- Among female victims of intimate partner violence, 94% of those age 16-19 and 70% of those age 20-24 were victimized by a current or former boyfriend or girlfriend
- Nearly half (43%) of dating college women report experiencing violent and abusive dating behaviors
- College students are not equipped to deal with dating abuse – 57% say it is difficult to identify and 58% say they don’t know how to help someone who’s experiencing it
- One in three (36%) dating college students has given a dating partner their computer, online access, email or social network passwords and these students are more likely to experience digital dating abuse (loveisrespect.org)
- One in six (16%) college women has been sexually abused in a dating relationship (loveisrespect.org)
These numbers indeed cause alarm for parents, educators, clinicians, advocates, and youth themselves. However, we can do something about it.
Love doesn't have to hurt.
Intimacy Education™ needs to start young. We must start by teaching boys and girls that they deserve to be treated with respect in language they understand. For instance, if Johnny or Mary are being aggressive on the playground with other children, we must talk to them about what it means to be mean and hurtful vs. kind and respectful. Along with this, helping Johnny and Mary talk about the reasons why they are being aggressive on the playground is key. This often relates to one's home, school, and religious environment which we know shapes children tremendously.
How we grow up is often how we show up.
Therefore, if there is any form of trauma (and shame is traumatizing) in any of these settings, a child will learn and act out what they witness, sense, or feel. Children often act out in an attempt to express themselves when they don't have the words to say what they need. Therefore, it is essential to create a sense of safety so that children have a forum to talk about their thoughts and feelings and learn appropriate ways to deal with conflict.
As teenagers and millennials (18-26), we must continue teaching key aspects of Intimacy Education™ such as: Mutual respect, informed consent, compassion, trust, honesty, and healthy boundaries (emotional, mental, physical and sexual) to name a few. This can be done at home and school so that young people develop healthy interpersonal skills and intimacy competence. We can't assume young people will learn how to have a healthy relationship by staring at their various social media platforms and reading quotes from the news or their peers.
Parents, teachers, peer mentors, peer advocates, counselors, and coaches all need to be actively involved in educating youth and young adults on real intimacy; that love doesn't have to hurt and that they matter.
Finally, it is important to look for signs that your teen or young adult might be getting victimized:
- Loss of friends; they hang out only with boyfriend or girlfriend
- Depression, anxiety
- Fearful about their behavior when not with partner
- Feeling they need to "check in" with partner
- Erratic behavior
- Insecure about their bodies, appearance
- Change their appearance to what their partner likes
- Bruising or wearing long sleeved clothing in warm weather (to cover bruising)
- More passive (when they were perhaps more confident and assertive)
- Health issues
- Unwanted pregnancy
If you suspect your teen or young adult may be a victim of intimate partner violence, we are hear to help: 801-272-3500.
National Abuse Hotline: http://www.thehotline.org
For more information about our Intimacy Education™ program, contact Candice at firstname.lastname@example.org.
JUNE 21st: Parent Education Night: Protecting Our Youth In A Cyber Obsessed World! Join us for a night of food and education on risks and how to keep your teen safe on and off the internet! https://www.smore.com/99dap