Amidst the flood of high school students spilling out of classrooms, a poster catches one young woman’s eye. It’s simple: two cell phone screenshots. The image on the right shows just one text from “babe” wishing his/her partner a great day – a healthy relationship. The screen on the left is full of accusatory, suspicious, controlling texts from “babe” to his/her partner – a less-than-healthy relationship. What stops this young woman in her tracks is the unnerving familiarity of the image on the left because she has received texts just like that from her own boyfriend.
Research suggests that she is, sadly, in good company among her peers. A 2013 nationwide study found that about one-third of U.S. adolescents (ages 14-20) have experienced some form of abuse – physical, sexual, emotional, financial, psychological – at the hands of a dating partner. This percentage has been found to be similar for both boys and girls, as well as youth in both heterosexual relationships and non-heterosexual relationships. A 2011 CDC study reported that nearly one-quarter of females and one-seventh of males who were raped, physically hurt, or stalked by an intimate partner in their lifetime first experienced these types of behaviors in a dating relationship when they were between 11 and 17 years old. What’s more, research indicates that as many as two-thirds of teens involved in abusive dating relationships won’t tell anyone about what’s happening – often because they either don’t know where to turn for help or they simply don’t know how to define a healthy vs. unhealthy relationship.
Statistics highlight the critical importance of laying the foundation for healthy relationships by providing dating violence prevention education for our youth – and to start young. What better time to start the conversation than February - a month traditionally dedicated to love that is also nationally recognized as Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (TDVAM)? TDVAM exists to raise awareness about this issue, highlight promising practices in prevention, and encourage communities to get involved in the movement to foster healthy relationships. Inspired by the mission of TDVAM, a group of local high school students who participate with Bucks County Intermediate Unit’s Student Leadership Forum created the poster mentioned at the beginning of this article. It’s message to their peers – one that empowers all people to move on from their abusive relationships. Real love is not demanding or oppressive but is supportive and trusting, and just because a behavior (like obsessive texting) may seem “ok” or may become normal in a relationship, it doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Above all, the students want to remind others that they deserve respect in any and all relationships. This February, join our youth in celebrating real love! Get started today:
· Educate yourself on the warning signs of abuse (e.g., extreme jealousy and possessiveness)
· Become familiar with resources
o Local – A Woman’s Place: www.awomansplace.org or 1-800-220-8116
o National – Love Is Respect: www.loveisrespect.org or 1-866-331-9474, or text loveis to 22522
· Model healthy relationships for others to see and from which to learn.