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February 10th, 2011
By Susan B. Carbon, Director, Office on Violence Against Women
February is known nationwide as the month to show those around you how much you love and appreciate them. Be it friends, family, or your significant other, the short month of February is filled with the most love. As we demonstrate healthy displays of love to those in our lives, we at the Office on Violence Against Women will also be recognizing a very unhealthy epidemic facing our teens: teen dating violence.
February marks the 2nd Annual Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month as dedicated by the US Senate. Each year, approximately one in four teens reports being the victim of teen dating violence, ranging from physical abuse, to stalking, to emotional abuse to sexual violence. Women age 16 to 24 experience the highest rates of rape and sexual assault, and people age 18 and 19 experience the highest rates of stalking. One in five high school girls has been physically or sexually abused, not by a stranger, but by a dating partner. This prevalence of teen dating violence is alarming and simply unacceptable.
Teen dating violence is often unnoticed by parents, and even unrecognized as abnormal by those teens experiencing it. As President Obama stated in his Presidential Proclamation of Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, it takes place in both "typical" and atypical mediums:
Our efforts to take on teen dating violence must address the social realities of adolescent life today. Technology such as cell phones, email, and social networking websites play a major role in many teenagers' lives, but these tools are something tragically used for control, stalking, and victimization. Emotional abuse using digital technology including frequent text messages, threatening emails, and the circulation of embarrassing messages or photographs without consent, can be devastating to young teens.
The impacts of teen dating violence are real and can greatly disrupt teens' healthy development. Victims of dating abuse are more likely to engage in binge drinking. Moreover, rates of drug and alcohol abuse are more than twice as high in girls who report dating abuse than in those who do not. Abusive dating experiences can often disrupt normal development, self-esteem, and body image for girls who experience it during their critical teen years. Sadly, adolescents in abusive relationships often carry these unhealthy patterns of abuse into future relationships, continuing a devastating cycle.
Teen dating violence affects teens and their families across the country, and it will take each and every one of us to stop it. We all must advocate for the young people in our lives, provide a safe space to report instances of teen dating violence, and set examples of healthy and appropriate displays of love, respect and affection. As President Obama stated:
The time to break the cycle of teen dating violence is now, before another generation falls victim to this tragedy...During National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month --- and throughout the year --- let each of us resolve to do our part to break the silence and create a culture of healthy relationships for all young people.
We encourage you, and your teens, to visit our partner websites who are doing exciting and peer-focused work on this important issue. Break the Cycle (www.breakthecycle.org), the Texas Council on Family Violence/Teen Dating Abuse Hotline (www.loveisrespect.org), and the Family Violence Prevention Fund - That's Not Cool Initiative (www.thatsnotcool.com) are using innovative ways to address teen dating violence, working directly with teens to stop this wide-spread issue.
At the end of last month, the Office on Violence Against Women held the inaugural meeting of the National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women (NAC). The NAC was re-chartered in 2010 by the Attorney General. The purpose of this federal advisory committee is to provide advice and recommendations to the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services on how to improve the Nation's response to violence against women, with a specific focus on successful interventions with children and teens who witness and/or are victimized by domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.
The Attorney General's goal for the NAC is to bring together experts, advocates, researchers, and criminal justice professionals for the exchange of innovative ideas and the development of practical solutions to help us address and prevent these serious problems. The members will also examine the relationship between children and teens who are witnesses to or victims of such violence and the overall public safety of communities across the country.
At the inaugural meeting, our 15-member NAC heard from federal partners, including the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services and other Offices throughout the Department of Justice on the important work being done to stop teen dating violence and other forms of violence against children and youth. As experts, researchers and advocates, our NAC members began important discussions about the essential next steps that need to be taken to address these issues and stop teen dating violence, and violence against women as a whole, in the future. The notes from the National Advisory Committee inaugural meeting will be available through the OVW website soon.
Earlier in the week, the Attorney General's Defending Childhood Initiative held its first meeting of the eight demonstration sites that are working to develop comprehensive community-wide plans that will implement strategies to prevent, reduce and combat childhood exposure to violence. The initiative, which spans the age range of 0 to 18, is a Department wide effort that also has partnerships with other federal agencies including Health and Human Services and Education. Attorney General Eric Holder, Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli and department officials led a discussion with representatives from the eight sites to discuss individual community strengths and challenges.
The Office on Violence Against Women is proud of the work being done, in our Office and at the Department of Justice, as well as in the field, on these important issues. We hope, as you celebrate Valentine's Day with those you love, that you will take the time to educate yourself, and those around you, on how to break the cycle of violence for our children and youth.