Every month, there is indeed a designation to bring awareness to many health concerns or causes. February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.
According to youth.gov, National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention is an issue that impacts everyone – not just teens – but their parents, teachers, friends and communities as well.” The hope in focusing on this issue is that together, awareness can promote safe, healthy relationships.
According to youth.gov, the statistics show that an estimated 1 in 10 teens will experience dating violence. Their website further describes that “nationwide, youth age 12 to 19 experience the highest rates of rape and sexual assault. Studies show that approximately 10% of adolescents report being the victim of physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner during the previous year. Girls are particularly vulnerable to experiencing violence in their relationships and are more likely to suffer long-term behavioral and health consequences, including suicide attempts, eating disorders, and drug use.”
Being aware of these sobering statistics promotes understanding and action by individuals, schools, families, and our church communities.
Unhealthy relationships are based on attempts to control the other person, including pressure, dishonesty, and inconsiderate behavior. Third, abusive relationships are based on an imbalance of power and control, including accusations, blame-shifting, isolation pressure and manipulation.
The website loveisrespect.org helps to define healthy, unhealthy and abusive relationships. Healthy relationships are based on equality and respect, which includes trust, honesty and good communication.
It is important to note that according to youth.gov, research shows that “adolescents in abusive relationships often carry these unhealthy patterns of violence into future relationships.” And “children who are victimized or witness violence frequently bring this experience with them to the playground, the classroom, later into teen relationships and, ultimately, they can end up the victims and perpetrators of adult intimate partner violence.”
With materials, information and curriculum from the archdiocesan safe environment training program for youth, Circle of Grace, parishes and schools provide information and resources to help youth identify and reflect on the importance of a healthy relationship. In many parishes, youth leaders have invited speakers to talk with their youth to discuss the factors that make up healthy and unhealthy relationships.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing dating violence, please seek help by contacting your local law enforcement, local domestic violence shelter and a trusted adult. If you or someone you know is in an unhealthy relationship, please talk with someone you trust to seek help and guidance and with your local domestic violence advocacy agency.
I encourage all parents, youth, parishes and ministers to educate themselves further on the dynamics and preventative measures of dating violence. In conjunction with government and non-profit agencies, the church has come together in many ways to support the efforts of preventing and addressing dating violence.
Designating a month of awareness aims to encourage individuals and communities to understand and recognize the problem and then seek to learn more. Contact the Archdiocesan Office of Safe Environment for Catholic resources or visit our website aoaj.org. You can also contact your local domestic violence advocacy center, such as AWARE.org in Juneau and AWAIC.org in Anchorage, or the State of Alaska Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (dps.alaska.gov).