Awful Truths About Teen Dating Violence

 

By Mehmed Omerovic

Approximately 1 in 10 high school students have admitted to experiencing intentional physical harm at the hands of their romantic partners. Consider for a moment that these are just the ones who have enough courage to admit that such events occurred. This suggests that the reality of teen dating violence may have even uglier numbers. Young adults are at major risk of being physically or sexually abused—and furthermore, these events have severe repercussions psychologically and emotionally.According to DoSomething.org, teens who suffer from dating abuse are subject to long-term consequences like alcoholism, eating disorders, promiscuity, suicidal thoughts, and even further violent behavior. In short, high school students who experience dating violence face severe ramifications—so society needs a plan of action to stop violence as well as offer treatment for survivors.

But just what is teen dating violence? When many people think about intimate partner violence, they often think about “domestic violence,” which harks to families, or “spousal abuse,” which refers to married couples. But intimate partner violence can take many forms. Whether it’s pushing, hitting, or forcing someone into unwanted sexual acts, teens are just as capable of violence towards one another as adults. Both males and females suffer from this issue, but in the United States, the rates of violence against teenage girls are particularly high. For example, 25% of high school girls have been abused physically or sexually in the past year. According to one research study form 2014 in which almost 87% of participants were enrolled in school, nearly 1 in 5 female participants and 1 in 8 males reported past-year physical dating violence.

Teen dating violence can be a special problem not just because of its widespread nature, but because of uneven legislation. For example, 8 states in the U.S. do not consider violent dating relationships to be a form of domestic abuse largely because crimes committed by juveniles are seen as “kids being kids”.  A report on state laws by Break the Cycle, a teen-violence prevention organization that worked with the Justice Department, graded laws in place for all states and assigned 12 states with D’s and 11 failed. Only 5 received A’s. Laws such as those in Virginia make it hard for teens to get protective orders because it limits cases considered to those where the victim and perpetrator have been married or lived together. However, this does not apply to most dating violence. This means that adolescents, teens, and 20-somethings in these locations are unable to apply for a restraining order as a basic protection from their attackers. Perhaps more states should follow New Hampshire’s solution which allows minors of any age to go to court by themselves to request a protection order.

Researching this issue, I reached out to a close friend in a California high school who has admitted to me that she has experienced intimate partner violence. I asked her to reflect on it. Her response was as follows: “It made me feel bad and like I could never do anything right. And if I did something right he would steal the victory. If I didn’t want to have sex with him he would be mad at me and ignore me until I made up to him.” The abuse tore her down emotionally, which then made her susceptible to being guilted into unwanted sexual acts. While she was able to get out of this relationship to have her voice heard, others aren’t always as lucky.

Teen dating violence has other ramifications as well. Girls who have suffered abuse are 6 times more likely to develop an early or unwanted pregnancy or to catch a sexually transmitted infection. And when cases involve rape or other physical/sexual abuse, 50% of victims attempt suicide. With statistics like this in mind, it seems clear that despite the silence surrounding teen dating violence, this is not a personal problem. It’s a public health crisis.

To be sure, increased risks of suicide attempts, alcoholism, or even early pregnancies create huge problems for not just the youths and their loved ones who experience these issues individually, but for society itself. Alcoholism provokes further dangerous behavior whether it’s driving drunk or even more violence. Early pregnancies can result in mothers who cannot afford to properly care for their babies, or girls who cannot complete their educations. The pain of teen suicide for all who knew the victims speaks for itself. Teens who have been abused hesitate to seek for help due to fear of exposure or even just being unaware of laws that could protect them. Teen dating violence is a societal issue, not a personal one, and it must be better addressed by those in charge.

Mehmed Omerovic is a senior engineering student at Saint Louis University, and is taking a course on gender, race, and social justice this term.

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