March is teen dating violence awareness month. The Office of Population Affairs Adolescent and Family Life of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has offered a series of self-directed modules aimed at reducing the IPV or Intimate Partner Violence Cycle in teens. There are healthy and unhealthy relationships, and often, teens don’t know the difference. [Think of examples of unhealthy relationships in popular music.] A relationship can begin with a happy or romantic stage, move into a tension-building stage and erupt into an explosive stage where there is violence. The abusive partner often apologizes, begs for forgiveness and the cycle repeats. A victim can’t stop the cycle until leaving the relationship or unless the abuser takes responsibility. Read more about this at: http://www.hhs.gov/opa/familylife/tech_assistance/etraining/partner/index.html
The CDC, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, 2007 report states that “Approximately one in ten high school students have experienced physical violence in dating relationships. A survey of over 13,000 U.S. 9th to 12th grade students found that 9.9% (8.8% for girls and 11.0% for boys) had been physically hurt by their boyfriend or girlfriend in the preceding 12 months.” The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health found that “13.7% of 11-13 year old girls, 19.6% of 14-16 year old girls, and 27.2% of 17-21 year old young women had experienced verbal or physical abuse by a partner in the previous 18 months (Roberts, TA, Klein J., 2003).” There are often unintended consequences in an era of sexually transmitted diseases, and the potential for pregnancy.
The training module defines physical violence, sexual violence, threats of physical or sexual violence and emotional or psychological violence. The module says ‘the roots of IPV are the results of cultural, social, economic and psychological factors. IPV is a learned behavior.” Games, online media, music and popular figures may promote an aggressive, careless posture. Wanting to be acceptable or gain approval is one reason for being susceptible to the tactics of abuse.
The Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in Duluth, Minnesota developed the concept of power and control wheels. “The Teen Power and Control Wheel is a model of the cycle of violence. The wheel shows that power and control are at the center of an abusive relationship. In other words, abuse is a pattern of one person trying to gain power and control over the other. One of the most common ways to control another person is by using violence, such as hitting or sexual assault.” Verbal and emotional, psychological or financial tactics may also be used. The second is the teen equality wheel which models a healthy relationship ‘based on nonviolence, trust and respect’.
A key component for a teen who feels victimized is to have a safety plan and define where to get help, to talk with a parent or guardian or identify people who could help them remain safe. No one deserves to be hurt or abused, and there is nothing to be ashamed of. The training module identifies healthy versus unhealthy relationships. The ‘unhealthy relationships’ section identified 8 key warning signs for abuse. Instead of a shared balance of power, in the unhealthy relationship one’s partner makes all the decisions and tells the other what to do; is dishonest or with-holds information; uses force to get his/her way; is disrespectful of the opinions and interests of the other partner; intimidates or isolates the victim; may engage in sexual abuse; creates the dynamic of dependence and/or is hostile. See http://www.hhs.gov/opa/familylife/tech_assistance/etraining/partner/healthy/index.html There are all kinds of emotions and mental frameworks that go with the abuse dynamic such as fear, insecurity, low self-esteem or denial. “No one should have to live in fear or emotional pain. Its important to resolve these issues earlier in life,” said Heather, Pomegranate CPST.
[Photo image: couple holding hands- Wikimedia Commons -April Killingsworth, LA 2005]