Adolescent relationship abuse is a pervasive problem with far-reaching, negative impacts on California youth, families, schools and communities. One survivor we’ll call Amanda shared her story with the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence (Partnership) in hopes of shedding light on the scope and profound impact of this issue for young people today.
“My first relationships in high school were emotionally abusive and controlling. My boyfriends told me where I could go and who I could hang out with and yelled and called me names if I didn’t do what they told me. This became normal for me.
Now I know what I didn’t know then—that the nature of abuse is that, without intervention, it escalates over time. My next relationship was with a young man, who after three months of dating, broke my phone, broke into my house, stole belongings, stalked me at school and severely beat me. I had to get a restraining order against him. There were days I couldn’t sleep. I was constantly worried. The worst part was that it affected my education.
My ex-boyfriend was arrested and recently convicted of two felonies.”
A few facts:
- Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year. A substantial number of reported incidents of teen dating violence occurs in school buildings and on school grounds.
- Approximately 1 in 3 adolescent girls in the United States is a victim of physical, emotional, or verbal abuse from their dating partner. Young women ages 16 to 24 experience the highest rates of intimate partner violence.
- Teen dating violence is associated with increased risk of substance use, unhealthy weight control behaviors, sexual risk behaviors, pregnancy, and suicide. In a study conducted by the University of Minnesota, 50 percent of youth survivors of teen dating violence and rape reported attempting suicide.
- Dating violence behavior starts early and carries through into adult relationships. The severity of intimate partner violence has also been shown to increase if abusive behaviors began in adolescence.
Amanda’s experience is one that is shared by many, including many of her peers.
“At my high school, I had friends who were dealing with abuse in their relationships. I saw abusive behavior from boys and girls. These behaviors spilled out into the hallways, the lunch room and even the classroom. At that age, we didn’t necessarily know better.
And while of course, it’s the parents’ responsibility to teach their children right and wrong, the fact is, as students, we spent up to 40 hours a week or more at school. Teachers witness a lot that parents don’t. And parents rely on schools to protect their children from harm when they are on campus.
Aside from a few caring counselors and health center staff, teachers and the school administration were largely silent about dating abuse. When victims of dating abuse do come forward, other students accuse them of being a snitch. Victims end up feeling that no one will have their back.”
We want to change this. We are the DaVengers!, the Women’s Policy Institute’s Domestic Violence Team, made strong by survivors, by advocates, by community organizers with the sponsorship and strategic support of the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence (Partnership) and the Women’s Policy Institute (WPI). Together, we are moving forward progressive legislation that will help to break the cycle of violence where it begins: with young people grappling with how to navigate their first relationships.
We know from our years of working with survivors of domestic violence that prevention education and early intervention is crucial to addressing teen dating violence before it escalates and before harmful dating behaviors are learned and internalized. Given that abuse often occurs on school grounds, we believe that California schools have a duty to provide a safe learning environment free from violence. And beyond that, we believe that schools can play a key role in shaping adolescent attitudes and behaviors and providing guidance on how to form healthy relationships.
The legislation we propose will provide the infrastructure for students, parents, educators, and administrators to prevent, detect, and effectively respond to incidents of adolescent relationship abuse.
Specifically, this bill will require schools serving grades 6 through 12 to:
- Develop policies and procedures related to adolescent dating abuse prevention and intervention as part of their comprehensive school safety plan.
- Provide educational programs that promote healthy relationships and prevent adolescent relationship abuse to students.
It will also require the State Department of Education to provide information on their website about model policies, procedures, and curriculum that are designed to promote healthy relationships and prevent adolescent relationships abuse.
At this stage, we are meeting with key community stakeholders to gather support and use their feedback to amend the bill language. We are ecstatic to report that our team has found a champion and author for this bill—Senator Connie Leyva of Chino, with an amazing track record as an advocate for women and the working families of California.
The Davengers! invite you to take a stand with us against adolescent relationship abuse by getting informed and involved as we move forward. If you are interested in finding out more about our bill or how to get involved as a supporter, please email our team’s Communications Liaison, Marissa Seko at email@example.com. Together we can strengthen our communities by lifting up young people before they become survivors or perpetrators of abuse.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2003). “Physical Dating Violence Among High School Students – United States,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, May 19, 2006, Vol. 55, No. 19.
Molidor, C. & Tolman, R. (1998). Gender and contextual factors in adolescent dating violence. Violence Against Women, 4 (2), 180-194.
Davis, A. (2008.) Interpersonal and physical dating violence among teens. The National Council on Crime and Delinquency Focus. Oakland, CA: National Council on Crime and Delinquency.
US Bureau of Justice (2000.) US Bureau of Justice Special Report: Intimate Partner Violence. Washington, DC: Author.
D. M. Ackard, Minneapolis, MN, and D. Neumark-Sztainer, Division of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, “Date Violence and Date Rape Among Adolescents: Associations with Disordered Eating Behaviors and Psychological Health,” Child Abuse & Neglect, 26 455-473.
Graffunder, Noonan, Cox, and Wheaton. (2004.) Through the public health lens. Preventing violence against women: An update from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Journal of Women’s Health, 13, 5-14.