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Teen dating violence prevention month

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The shelves are full of cards, aisles loaded with various heart-shaped boxes of candy and everything is turning pink or red. Floral arrangements abound and with Valentine's Day nearing, hearts are filled with love and thoughts are on romance. People know what love looks like.

Or do they? February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. Because of its attachment to the idea of love, February is a natural choice for promoting awareness of something that takes place more often than one might think, said Jeanette Barzee, Family Advocacy Program Outreach Manager with the Peterson Air Force Base Family Advocacy Program.

"Sadly, one in three girls in the U.S. is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a figure that far exceeds the rates of other types of youth violence, according to publications from 'The National Council on Crime and Delinquency Focus,'" she said.

The most vulnerable group is females between 16-24 years old. The rate of intimate partner violence for the group is triple the national average. According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics special report the average rate of intimate partner violence is 5.8 incidents per 1,000 women. For the 16-24 age group that number skyrockets to 15.6 per 1,000. Most of them were victimized by a current or former dating partner.

Boys are not exempt from victimization in dating violence either., a web site aimed at helping youth prevent and end dating abuse, says 1.5 million high schoolers nationwide, about nine percent, experience some type of physical abuse from dating partners in a given year. One in 10 high school students have been hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend.

One of the biggest challenges in stopping this behavior is related to awareness. Only one-third of teenagers who were in an abusive relationship ever mentioned it to anyone. Further, 81 percent of parents said they do not think teen dating violence is an issue, or admit they do not know if it is. Compounding that disconnect is the fact that 82 percent of parents said they could recognize the signs of dating abuse, more than half of them could not correctly identify those signs.

"Dating violence can also include sexual abuse, coercion and threats.  Currently, many teenagers use social media, e-mail, and text messages to criticize, harass and control their partners," Barzee said. Dating violence can take place in person or electronically via repeated texting or posting things on line.

The Centers for Disease Control, Division of Violence Prevention points out four areas of dating violence to watch for: physical, psychological/emotional, sexual and stalking. Examples of physical types of violence are pinching, punching, hitting, slapping and shoving. Psychological and emotional types include threatening a partner or harming their self-worth by name calling, shaming, bullying purposely embarrassing or keeping them away from friends and family. Sexual types are when a partner is forced to engage in a sex act when they does not or cannot consent. Stalking relates to a pattern of threatening or harassing tactics causing fear in the victim.

The CDC says dating violence also has a negative impact on long term health. Youth who experience dating violence are more likely to have symptoms of depression and anxiety, engage in unhealthy activities like drug and alcohol abuse or exhibit anti-social behaviors. A study from the University of Minnesota School Of Public Health showed that half of youth who experience dating violence and rape attempt suicide compared to just 12.5 percent of non-abused girls and 5.4 percent of non-abused boys.

The best way to prevent dating violence is to stop it before it starts.

"The best ways to prevent teen dating violence are to model healthy, loving relationships in the home as parents;  for parents to talk to their teens daily and listen, listen, listen," said Barzee.

She suggests having regular conversations with children about what makes a good relationship well before the children start dating -some pre-teens are "going steady" in school. For example, parents can ask a teen or pre-teen which of their friends seems to have a good relationship and have them explain why they see it as a good one to get the conversation going.

"Also, if your child seems angry, depressed, or anxious, it's important to ask them what is going on-gently but persistently.  When doing this, parents need to remain parents and not fall into the trap of trying to be their friend, which is not what they need," Barzee said. "Of course, any serious signs such as self-mutilation, thoughts of suicide, etc. mean to seek professional help immediately."

The Family Advocacy Program's Domestic Abuse Victim Advocate, Shirley Crow, can assist victims even if they are under age.  Individuals that are 18 or older and experiencing dating violence can contact the Family Advocacy Program. The program does not deal with child against child abuse, however. It does assist parents struggling with the problem if our prevention program has openings, Barzee said.

For help or more information:

Peterson AFB Family Advocacy Program: (719) 556-8943
Shirley Crow: (719) 556-8571
CDC's Dating Matters: Strategies to Promote Healthy Teen Relationships:
National Dating Abuse Helpline and Love is Respect: 1-866-331-9474 or text 77054 or
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
National Sexual Violence Resource Center:

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