With Education and Support, We Can Break Cycle of Teen Dating Violence

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Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Angela Jaster For The Register-Guard

Perhaps you read the front-page article in the Jan. 4 Register-Guard: "Killings prompt states, communities to take action against dating violence." Teen dating violence is prevalent in our community, too, and needs to be brought to light.

In 2003, with the help of the federal Centers for Disease Control, we did a random study of domestic violence in Lane County. Twenty-three percent of 18- to 21-year-old respondents reported that they had been physically or sexually harmed or threatened by an intimate partner since the age of 14.

Dr. Krista Chronister, an assistant professor of counseling psychology at the University of Oregon, is conducting interview-based research with girls aged 14 to 18. Locally, girls experience dating violence ranging from severe emotional abuse to physical violence. Abusive partners' tactics include isolating girls from friends and family, sabotaging school and work performance, controlling their clothing and social interaction, forced drug use, constant texting or phoning, and destroying girls' reputations.

Chronister notes that teachers seem to suspect abuse when it is occurring, based on physical and emotional indicators and changes in school performance. In every instance the girl was pulled aside. While it's clear that school staff members are well-intentioned and concerned for girls' safety, this could give the wrong message about who is responsible. It is important that the behavior of the abusive partner be addressed. The girls who were interviewed said this did not happen in their situations.

These young women, as well as young men who experience dating violence, need our support. Education is critical in successful development. Nell Best, youth advocate and educator at Womenspace, provides "healthy relationships" presentations in middle and high schools. She says, "Kids spend most of their time in school. This is most likely the place they will form dating relationships, so schools should be on the forefront of providing this education."

Best suggests that prevention begin with elementary students, because the dynamics of power and control can be seen early within family and peer relationships. She urges adults to ask school officials if they make an effort to teach students about healthy relationships. Volunteering at your student's school can also be a way to support schools as they deal with the challenges of limited resources. …