February 14, 2018 – A Shattered Fairytale

By Emily Tobar

Let me take you back to a simpler time–one where you’re sixteen again, and about to go on your first date. Hopefully you’ve showered, brushed your teeth so your mouth doesn’t taste like high school cafeteria pizza, and put on that extra layer of deodorant. Because let’s face it, you’re already sweating nervously waiting for your date to show up. But these are good nerves, because everything is bright and shiny and new. A fairy tale romance is just one awkward movie date hand-hold away! And you are this close to becoming a part of that story book. A million things are excitingly racing through your mind, but I can almost guarantee that the thought being a victim of teen dating violence isn’t one of them.

Unfortunately, however, teen dating violence is a common occurrence thing in our society today. It is a silent epidemic, however–one generally left undiscussed and incorrectly recognized.

Why is this the case? First, teen dating violence is definitionally unclear. People seem to assume that “violence” only means physically brutality–but violence can take much broader forms. According to loveisrespect, a project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline that seeks to end silence around teen dating violence and provide resources to those impacted by it, “Teen dating violence (TDV) is a pattern of behavior that includes physical, emotional, verbal or sexual abuse used by one person in an intimate relationship to exert power and control over another.” TDV is an umbrella term and, just like people, TDV comes in all forms, shapes and sizes. There’s not one distinct case that “fits the mold,” which can make it difficult to recognize.

Indeed, everyone’s experience with TDV is different, even down to why the abuser is inflicting the abuse. It’s not always simply to exert physical power. It can also be to humiliate, instill fear, or even retaliate against a partner. Whatever reason abusers use to “justify” their actions, it’s never acceptable to use violence to harm or demean another person.

While the physical wounds of TDV can heal over time, the mental wounds are often much more long-lasting: “Extensive effects of being abused puts victim at a higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior and further domestic violence,” documents loveisrespect. The stakes are too high to remain silent about TDV. The mental trauma that follows after the fact of the abuse itself can impact not only the victims, but the community around them.

Just how many people are suffering this way? I would truly like to say that the numbers are low. I wish I could claim that’s the reason we don’t typically hear about TDV. However, that’s simply not the case at all. In just one year, almost 1.5 million high-school students across the United States will be exposed to some form of TDV. That’s 1.5 million high schoolers facing a harsh reality that they should never have to experience. Dating in your teens is supposed to be a time to safely experiment. It’s a time to go out and get cheap hamburgers on a Friday night and make awkward small talk. Fairytale expectations–as fictional as they are–shouldn’t be shattered before they have barely had the chance to be fulfilled. Everyone deserves love and kindness.

Why is the number of teens being violated so high? Well for starters, 81% of parents don’t even know what TDV is–and if they do, they don’t believe it could actually happened to their teen. A subsequent lack of information and communication on the part of parents is extremely damaging to a young adult and harms their mental stability.

Speaking personally for a moment, as a young person who has, in the eyes of the world, nearly graduated to adult status and exceeded the teen stage, I can admit to fully living a life of impressionability, fragility, and at times, emotional storminess. Of course, everyone experiences their teen years differently, but if a harmful, questionable thing happens to you under conditions where statistically 81% of adults can’t or won’t give you the help you need… well, it’s no wonder that only 33% of teens ever tell anyone about their experiences of abuse. It’s difficult for someone who’s already been made incredibly vulnerable to become vulnerable all over again when they disclose their story–especially if they are not given the proper environment in which to share their experiences.

For our society to keep progressing, we need to educate ourselves fully on teen dating violence. In order to support survivors and stop future assaulters we owe it to ourselves to and our communities to learn how to spot warning signs. Nobody–especially people so young, with so much potential to give the world–deserves a shattered fairy tale.

Emily Tobar is a freshman theater major at Saint Louis University.

 

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