By Caitlin Feuer

teen-dating-violence-awareness-month-2013Love isn’t the only thing we should be aware of this Valentine’s Day. In addition to Singles-Awareness-Month, February is also Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (TDVAM). When you plan your date this Valentine’s Day—whether it be with a significant other, best friend or favorite pint of ice cream—keep in mind that over 1.5 million teens have been in an abusive relationship. We have the power to interrupt the cycle of violence and it starts with awareness.

Remember the days of young love? Holding hands in the hallway and “going steady?” Unfortunately, this is not the reality all dating teens face.  In fact, girls and young women between 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence of any group—almost triple the national average of one in four women.

Dating violence is defined as a pattern of abusive behaviors used to exert power and control over a dating partner. This pattern of abuse happens over time and can come in many forms, such as physical, verbal, emotional, sexual or even digital violence. Technology lends itself to easy harassment including texting too much, threats, and “sexting” with words or pictures.

Teens are at an especially high risk for abuse because they may not recognize their relationship is unhealthy or justify the abuse. Often, the abusive partner will apologize, promise it will not happen again and treat the partner with kindness. These actions do not mean the partner is no longer abusive, rather it is just part of the cycle. Even when teens recognize their relationship is unhealthy, only 33 percent will come forward and seek help.

Teen dating violence knows no racial, ethnic, gender identity, religious, socio-economic or sexual orientation bounds and it is happening all around us. Let’s use Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month this February to talk with our children, family, neighbors, educators and faith communities to raise awareness, recognize abusive behavior and share resources so the teens in our lives can receive the help they need.

Many resources exist specifically for teens. Last year, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention launched prevention initiative Dating Matters: Strategies to Promote Healthy Teen Relationships in four metropolitan areas. The curriculum’s resources and grant applications are available on their website. The Boston Public Health Commission’s Start Strong Initiative offers resources and trainings focused on 11-14 year olds to prevent violence before it starts. Check out this great and local resource here.

Another excellent resource is loveisrespect.org, which has relationship quizzes, a blog by Olympic Gymnast Jordyn Wieber and a live chat support system. Additionally, teenDVmonth.org has resources for young people, advocates, educators and a special section for LGBTQ populations.

As parents, aunts, uncles, educators, coaches, survivors of abuse or just concerned neighbors, there are many actions we can take to support healthy youth relationships:

  • Post about TDVAM and healthy relationships on your social media outlets.
  • Express your appreciation for male allies; fathers, coaches and teachers can play a crucial role in setting examples for young boys.
  • Ask a teen in your life if they know someone who has been hit, pressured into sexual behavior or received repeated unwanted text messages.
  • Check out this interactive map and find your state to learn more about existing legislation such as whether the law is preventing teens from getting restraining orders or pressing charges against their abusers.
  • Explore thatsnotcool.com and share games like “NudeECall” to practice responding to pressuring text messages that ask for nude pictures.
  • Show your support for the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which was not renewed in 2012 for the first time since 1994.
  • Look at A Call to Men and watch Tony Porter’s TED talk in which he shares how the “man box” of gender roles directly leads to violence against women.

Teen dating violence is a real issue that affects youth across our country. It impacts young girls and boys around you.

Being abused significantly increases the likelihood of future abuse. Let’s use Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month as an opportunity to reach out to the young people in our lives now, before it’s too late.

Caitlin Feuer is a joint Master of Public Policy and Master of Arts in Women’s & Gender Studies at The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. Feuer recently hosted an awareness-raising event that shared knowledge and started conversations about gendered violence among students, faculty and staff with the support of area non-profits and the BPHC. She plans to devote her career to creating better policies to address domestic violence, sexual assault and other women’s health issues.