What constitutes an epidemic? When something is widespread, when a disease or issue is extremely prevalent, when one in three teenagers experiences dating abuse — that is an epidemic. As Floyd County’s only domestic violence shelter and agency, Hospitality House for Women works everyday with survivors who are in the midst of their crises; seeking safety, encountering financial struggles, seeking jobs, receiving therapy and attempting to establish a safe, self-sufficient life for themselves and for their children. It is only fitting that, in the name of prevention, we would gravitate to our youth to start those conversations about emotional management, establishing healthy boundaries and self-care, and the red flags of unhealthy relationships.
This month Hospitality House, in collaboration with the Sexual Assault Center, has submitted and received a proclamation from Rome City and Floyd County governments to recognize February as Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month (TDVAM). This month, and all that follow it, we hope we can encourage these open conversations and that healthy boundaries may be discovered for teens in Rome and Floyd County.
Young girls, ages 16 to 24, are most vulnerable to intimate partner violence, experiencing abuse at a rate almost triple the national average. Aspects of dating abuse can range from verbal criticisms and put-downs to physical harm and sexual aggression. In addition, with the extensive use of technology only growing in commonality, it is even easier for violation of personal boundaries and digital torment (bullying and stalking) to take place.
Now here come some numbers. Don’t let your attention stray, this concerns you, too. It’s important that the parents in our community are aware that after administering more than 200 anonymous surveys to local high schoolers, we found that 50 percent of them either know someone who is experiencing some form of dating abuse, or they have experienced it themselves. During our discussions we encounter blurred boundaries when it comes to personal space and technological privacy. We notice waning self-confidence and young people that just want to be heard and believed when they do speak up. When only 33 percent of teens who are in an abusive relationships actually tell someone about it, we cannot afford to ignore or choose not to believe the ones that do.
Statistics show that 81 percent of parents don’t think dating abuse is an issue, or they admit that they didn’t know it was. It starts with recognition. Declining grades, lack of self-care, drug use, depression and loneliness; any one of these could be a sign that your teen is experiencing dating abuse. It’s important to recognize that the proactive approach for prevention would not be to discourage your teen from dating, but to model healthy behaviors as a parent, familiarize yourself with your teen’s culture, and begin a conversation with them about how they’re doing. Starting a conversation can be as easy as, “Hey, how’s everything going?”
Know that resources like Hospitality House are available to you, to help navigate these conversations, to help safely plan with a teen who may be dealing with an abusive partner and to help ensure that we won’t be calling them a “client” in the future.
For more information for teens and parents, visit losethedrama.org.
ErindeMesquita is the Community Outreach Coordinator for the Hospitality House for Women. To request a speaker for youth groups and classrooms, visit hospitalityhouseforwomen.org.