By Connor Liu and Animesh Joshi
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, a time for youth nationwide to come together in an effort to raise awareness of teen dating violence or TDV. Too often, we fail to recognize both the gravity and frequency of TDV. According to the Domestic Violence Awareness Project, approximately 1.4 million high school students in a relationship in the United States experience physical violence, and approximately one-third of all teens have experienced abuse of some kind. Teens who suffer from dating violence often struggle with its consequences for a lifetime and ultimately, are more prone to alcoholism, eating disorders, self-harm, and further violence. Despite its alarming effects, the CDC reports that only 19% of parents recognize TDV as a “serious issue,” indicating an even larger societal ignorance. In the face of this, it’s critical we bring these issues to light. This is why we wanted to reflect on TDV—its origins, what it is (and has become), and how we can all come together to try and solve the problem.
A History on Teen Domestic Violence Awareness Month
Although Dating Violence Awareness Month has existed nationwide since 1987, focus on teenagers has been a recent addition. During the 2005 VAWA reauthorization, the legislation specifically brought to attention teenage dating violence and potential abuse. The next year, Congress authorized the creation of a week to raise awareness for TDV and in 2010, the week became the month of February. Since then, February has been designated as a month for TDV awareness, work, and movements.
What is Teen Dating Violence?
There is no singular definition for TDV, but often, people only associate it with physical or sexual abuse. However, many different forms of dating violence exist, and so we’ve chosen to include some of the most common types for teenagers below:
A Deeper Dive into the Cyber World
In an increasingly cyber-oriented age, being cognizant of how technology can be manipulated in harmful ways is important to keep us safe; cyber safety is paramount. The advent of digital technology and later, social media has transformed our interpersonal interactions. Despite its positive uses, we must be aware of the internet’s darker side—especially when it comes to violence prevention. Teenagers are surrounded by their phones, computers, and social media accounts. And this opens up an avenue for dating violence and abuse to thrive online. As defined above, cyber abuse involves technology bringing physical or psychological harm to another. Studies have found there to be a correlational effect between cyber abuse and low self-esteem. Teenagers are either told they aren’t good enough or coerced into situations that cause extreme distress--destroying self-esteem in the process. And what is more troubling, is the ubiquity of cyber dating abuse in today’s world. One recent study from the Urban Institute, Justice Policy Center has found that over a quarter of youth in current relationships experience some form of dating violence through technology and were over seven times more likely to experience sexual coercion compared to peers’ who had not faced tech-based dating violence.
So in lieu of such sobering statistics, we must develop safer technologies. First, individuals must think before they take any action--sending photos, sharing information, texting--and reflect on if they would want other people to see it. This isn’t just “think before you send” but rather, asking for digital consent. Relationships can involve flirty texting, sexual pictures, etc. but individuals should always ask before assuming that their partner is comfortable with what is happening. Second, and more importantly, comprehensive education must occur starting at elementary school--preaching accountability and respect for others. Although there are a lot of uncertainties in the new technological realm, making sure we understand what is okay, and what isn’t, remains crucial to ensuring online safety.
What Can We Do?
What Can We Do?
If you’re interested in making a difference, there are numerous peer-led services created for and by teens/ young adults.
Ultimately, these types of solutions are key to any sustainable solution in ending teen dating violence. In an increasingly cyber-oriented age, being aware about teen violence across digital platforms is paramount. Teen Dating Violence Month is a time to address these concerns, and more; so, please bring awareness to your communities--it all starts with us!