ROANOKE (WSLS)– February is Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Awareness month as designated by Congress. It’s a time to talk to our kids and teens about what a healthy relationship looks like and when they’re not being treated right.
Teen Dating Violence is a topic that doesn’t come up often, until it’s sometimes too late. Experts say only one in four parents talk to their children about domestic violence, a statistic Congress and local advocates are looking to change.
Technology is one of the biggest factors that has changed over the years. Before, teens in unhealthy relationships were only subjected to abuse while at school or hanging out in person. Now, the constant communication that cell phones and text messaging provides, makes abuse in unhealthy relationships even more constant and difficult to escape from.
This year alone, more than 1.5 million high school students will experience physical or verbal abuse by the person they’re dating. Girls between the ages of 16 and 24 are even more vulnerable, they’re three times more likely than the rest of the population to be abused by an intimate partner.
In 2010, Virginia was given an “F” grade by Break The Cycle for its laws on protective orders. Back then, laws excluded people who were in dating relationships from accessing protective orders. Over the past few years, the state has vastly improved its laws. Protective orders have expanded to cover teens in relationships, same sex couples and even animals that have been abused. But Sarah Higginbotham, the coordinator for the VOICE (Violence Can End) Program, says there’s still a long way to go when it comes to teens and the law.
“The issue is, if they’re under 18, they’re still going to need an adult to go in and assist them,” says Higginbotham. “That can create a gap for us, so we still need to work on our laws.”
She says another key factor in abusive relationships is the inability to talk about it. Higginbotham says a lot of parents don’t know what to say to their children or feel uncomfortable bringing it up.
Teens often confuse emotional abuse and jealousy with love. Here are some red flags to look out for if you think someone is being abused:
A change in behavior, especially moodiness or sadness
Distance and isolation
More time spent alone and less with friends and family
“I would tell them to listen to their gut. Your gut doesn’t lie,” says Higgenbotham. “We have very strong intuitions. If it doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not right. Love really shouldn’t hurt, it should be healthy and respectful. If you question it, talk to somebody you trust and feel comfortable with. Know that you deserve to be respected and deserve the right treatment and right love.”
There are many resources you can turn to if you believe that you or someone you know is in an unhealthy relationship.
The VOICE (Violence Can End) Program through Jefferson College of Health Sciences has a lot of online resources
Sexual Assault Response and Awareness, Inc., or SARA has a 24-hour hotline at (540)981-9352
Total Action for Progress also has a domestic violence service center and 24-hour confidential number at (540)580-0775
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is also available 24-hours a day at 1-800-799-SAFE