This article is made possible by a partnership with the Marion County Commission on Youth. Indy with Kids is proud to support the work of MCCOY and help communicate information that is important for the youth of our community.
Written by Jacie Farris
We all think we know what the word “violence” means – but do we? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define teen dating violence as the “physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional aggression within a dating relationship, including stalking. It can occur in person or electronically and might occur between a current or former dating partner.”
“Youth dating violence is a pattern of abusive behavior between two people who are romantically or sexually involved (no matter how briefly),” said Jennifer Reister, senior director of mission impact for The Julian Center. “Dating violence is not always physical; in fact, physical violence is often the last form of violence to occur. More common in youth relationships are controlling behaviors, emotional abuse, technological abuse, sexual violence, and social isolation. Focusing on the threshold of physical violence to define a relationship as dangerous ignores the significant damage and risks of other types of violence. In the end, all violent relationships are about control – the types of abuse are tools employed to maintain that control.”
According to Reister, one out of every three high school students in America faces teen dating violence. When ranking the percentage of high school students who have reported sexual dating violence in the past 12 months, Indiana ranks third out of 30 states.
In an effort to prevent violence and intervene when necessary, The Julian Center’s Project Avery brings together a variety of community partners to educate teens and young adults about dating violence. According to Reister, Project Avery advocates for youth survivors, brings healthy relationship curricula to schools, and promotes awareness to the public by providing resources to parents and teachers.
“The best thing to do is to talk with kids early and often about how people should treat each other and what is acceptable from the people in their lives,” said Reister. “There are opportunities all the time with media, friends, and family to talk about abusive behavior and how to address it. If you see your child behaving in an abusive manner (physical or otherwise), don’t ignore or deny it – address it immediately. If you see your child accepting abusive behaviors from others, address is directly, too.”
Like The Julian Center, the Domestic Violence Network visits classrooms to offer healthy relationship and teen dating violence prevention programming to middle and high school students. DVN’s Youth Network establishes anti-violence clubs in schools to help students learn more about teen dating violence while also teaching them to be advocates in their communities. Additionally, participants learn how to assist friends who are in unsafe relationships.
Lindsay Stawick, director of programs for the DVN, has a violence prevention suggestion for teachers: push for detailed teen dating violence policies in schools.
“The most effective way we can prevent violence is to create a culture where violence is not tolerated,” she said. “Policies help to create that framework, and when enforced properly, [they] can make a significant difference in the lives of young people. Indianapolis Public Schools amended their Title IX policy in September to include teen dating violence and added more robust guidelines on prevention and intervention efforts as it relates to sexual harassment, sexual violence, dating violence, and stalking.”
If a teen, teacher, parent, or other concerned individual is suspicious of violence occurring in a youth relationship, Reister and Stawick suggest looking for warning signs such as changes in behavior and interests, excessive amounts of time in isolation, and mood swings. They also recommend that parents and guardians monitor their teens’ social media and phone usage to make sure no signs of abuse, such as technology control from a partner, are occurring.
Teens who suspect violent behavior in their friends’ relationships can be part of the solution.
“If your friend is the perpetrator, do not accept or condone their behavior by ignoring it,” said Reister. “Tell them directly but privately that you think their behavior is abusive and you’re not okay with it. Be specific and give them examples. This might not change their behavior and may impact your relationship, but the biggest impact we can have is to make sure abusive people know that we, as a community, do not accept their behavior. If your friend is the victim, speak with them privately and express your concerns in a calm and non-judgmental way. Try to frame your concerns in a way that conveys you are concerned about them and not as an attack of the other person generally. To be real, most victims will deny the abuse and may be angry – that is normal. Eventually, most victims see the abuse for themselves over time and will depend on you for support when it is over. In any event where you feel that your friend is being physically or sexually violated by anyone or is in danger, you should immediately tell a trusted adult; it is an uncomfortable thing to do but [it[ may save your friend’s life.”
Reister and Stawick have a special, encouraging message for victims of teen dating violence.
“You are not alone – millions of teens everywhere experience dating violence,” said Reister. “Talk to someone that you trust – a friend, a teacher, a parent – and tell them you need help. Leaving a violent relationship takes a lot of courage and support and people who love you will want to help. Do not suffer in silence.”
“Although this is not easy, please reach out to someone you trust and tell them,” said Stawick. “There are people and resources in our community ready and willing to help.”
For more information, visit the CDC’s teen dating violence website. The following resources have also been recommended:
- The Julian Center 24-Hour Crisis Line: (317) 920-9320
- Domestic Violence Network: (317) 872-1086
- Love is Respect: www.loveisrespect.org
- Indiana Youth Group (LGBTQ+): (317) 541-8726 or www.indianayouthgroup.org
With appropriate prevention and intervention techniques, families and community members can put a stop to cycles of violence that are still prevalent in our society.
“Based on local surveys, adult survivors of domestic violence indicate that they entered their first abusive relationship at the age of 14,” said Reister. “Involvement in an abusive relationship at an early age – whether as the victim or perpetrator – can set up a lifelong pattern of violence. If you are at all concerned about someone, say something. You may be the only person brave enough to come forward and you can change someone’s entire life.”