February 21, 2011

Dating Violence Takes On Many Forms

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

My recent visit with middle school students to help young people understand the differences between healthy and unhealthy dating relationships provided an important reminder that dating violence is not just a teen issue. Regrettably, middle school, high school and college students are widely affected by dating violence, which often conveys life-long effects. Unfortunately, dating violence has a number of forms, including digital abuse, which can fall under the parental radar.

The tragic death last year of University of Virginia student, Yeardley Love, provides a grim illustration of the importance of healthy relationships. The murder charges against her ex-boyfriend uncovered the details of a disturbing, abusive relationship that she could not escape. It is heartbreaking that it took a murder to bring this problem into the national spotlight.

As public awareness of dating violence continues to increase, the scope and extent of abuse also increase. Cases of dating abuse are not only becoming more violent, but are affecting even younger populations. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey, in the past year, one in ten middle and high school students reported that they were purposely hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend. Additionally, according to a survey by Liz Claiborne Inc., 41 percent of dating college freshmen and seniors experienced violence and abusive dating behaviors in their lifetime.

Such abuse can have lasting, unfortunate consequences. Dating abuse affects academic achievement, as one in five female victims did not attend school on more than one occasion in a 30-day period because she felt unsafe at school. Further, studies show that the severity of violence in adult relationships is higher when this violence began in adolescence, and many adults in abusive relationships endured some form of dating violence before the age of 15.

Just as awareness and prevention increase, so do new challenges. Technological advances have become a primary enabler of dating abuse. In the past year alone, 43 percent of middle and high school students reported experiencing cyber bullying, and one in four teens in a relationship say they have been called names, harassed, embarrassed or threatened online or by text messages. Additionally, more than half of parents surveyed could not recognize the signs of abuse that could affect their children.

Each year, in recognition of this issue and its ramifications, I introduce a Senate resolution designating February as "National Teen Violence Awareness and Prevention Month." This resolution encourages young people to develop healthier relationships and calls for parents, schools and community members to observe the month with programs and activities that educate society on teen dating violence within their communities. By involving parents, educators, health organizations and, especially, young people, the cycle of violence can be stopped. To acknowledge this month, President Barack Obama issued a similar proclamation highlighting the importance of this issue.

We must be proactive and establish a dialogue with young people that acknowledges the severity of dating violence and takes steps to stop this growing trend. Dating abuse has far-reaching, harmful effects, and young adults must understand they do not have to accept or stay in unhealthy relationships that will negatively impact their futures. Young people today will be parents tomorrow, and it is our responsibility to help them understand what constitutes healthy relationships. Family violence is widely considered to be a cycle, in which children learn what they live. Together, we can work to stop this cycle of violence today, before destructive attitudes and behavior overcome more Americans.

You may access information regarding warning signs of abuse, partners and resources through my website by the following link: http://crapo.senate.gov/issues/teen_dating_violence.cfm.

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