Break The Cycle: Teen Dating Violence and Prevention Week

Written By: Rachel Strong
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February 5 through 9 was "National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Week". Unfortunately, it went unnoticed throughout most of the country. However, teen dating violence is on the rise, and for the most part going unreported. Teens from already abusive families are the most likely to continue the cycle and allow their partner to abuse them. Break The Cycle (breakthecycle.org) and its sister site for teens, thesafespace.org, are working for change.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, in 2001 one-third of teens report experiencing some kind of abuse in their romantic relationships, including verbal and emotional abuse. And these are just the teens who actually report the violence over five years ago. Just as with adult victims of domestic violence, teens are not likely to report violence... or drop charges against their abusers or go back because the abuser promises to change.

Break The Cycle (BTC) is a site designed for teachers, parents and other adults in the lives of teens. The organization provides programs designed to "engage, educate and empower the community to help young people build lives free from violence." BTC also provides advice, referrals, legal information, advocacy and counsel to young people ages 12 to 24, and the people who care about them.

BTC encourages engaging the community by simply helping someone in the community either through BTC itself or volunteering with a domestic violence organization, supporting federal funding for such programs.

Curriculum is available on the BTC website for purchase to help educate teens on dating violence. Ask to host a class at your local youth center, church, or school (or ask if your school is going to be holding an assembly on the subject). Encourage teachers to teach about dating violence in the classroom. If nothing else, teach your teen about violence and why it is not right. There are activities (such as crosswords and mazes) free for downloading and printing on the website.

Empowerment is what makes the most difference. An empowered victim will not allow their abuser to continue the abuse. BTC encourages empowerment for both the teens and their parents and teachers. BTC offers many suggestions on how to help empower the general public on teen violence, including the following:

Investigate how well your state laws protect teen victims of relationship abuse.

Ask a local coffee house to hold an open mic night where people can speak out against domestic violence.

Find out if your school has a policy about domestic violence on campus. If not, encourage them to adopt one.

Hold an essay, poetry or art contest around the theme of dating violence and healthy relationships. Get a local school, art gallery or mall to display the winners.

Make it okay to talk about dating violence at your schools, church or workplace. Post flyers, publicize local resources and invite experts to come speak.

But all of this can amount to a hill of beans if your teen is suffering in silence. Your own teen may be in an abusive relationship and not telling one-or not feeling safe enough to tell anyone without serious repercussions. BTC offers a completely anonymous sister site, thesafespace.org. The Safe Space (TSS) offers help to teens who need help. There is a place to speak out and counselors to dialogue through email with your teen. TSS also gives information on what to do if you think your friend is being abused, on calling the police and reporting violence, obtaining a restraining order and other legal information. The best part about The Safe Space is teens realize they are not alone.

Broaching the subject of abuse may be the most difficult thing for a parent to do. But Break The Cycle and The Safe Space make it easier. If you notice any of the following warning signs, it is time to speak with your teen immediately:

Your teen's partner behaves in a way that is extremely jealous or possessive, such as checking in on your daughter or son often

You hear verbal abuse, such as name-calling and demeaning comments

Your teen gives up things that are important, such as time with friends and family, activities, or other interests

Your teen has unexplained injuries

Your teen's partner abuses other people or animals

If you have additional questions, or suspect that your teen may be a victim of domestic violence, visit the BTC website, or call or email Break the Cycle from anywhere in the US: [email protected] or 888.988.TEEN. With help from friends and family teens can break the cycle of violence plaguing our society.

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