Teen dating violence happens more often than people might think. One in three adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner.
A startling statistic, from the Centers for Disease Control, that says 1.5 million high school students in the U.S. experience physical abuse from a dating partner within a year shows that teen dating violence is much more common than most parents realize.
Feburary is a Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Awareness Month and the Daily Guide talked with representatives from Genesis House, our local battered women's shelter, and Waynesville School District's resource officer about the issue.
Tracy Acup, a case manager at Genesis House, Katy Knoeck, a court advocate with Genesis House, and Officer Nicholas Lopez talked candidly about signs parents should watch out for, statistics about teen dating violence, and the lasting effects that can carry over into adulthood.
Acup and Knoeck told the Daily Guide violent relationships in adolescents put those teens at a higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior and further domestic violence in adulthood.
When asked why they believe its happening with teens, Acup and Knoeck agreed that there are several factors that play a role such as popular culture, television, and home environment.
"I believe it has a lot to do with wanting attention and putting up with whatever to get it," Acup said of teens willingness to allow themselves to be treated badly by a dating partner.
Acup, Knoeck, and Lopez all said parents need to be willing to listen and be more open to discussing the dangers in dating for both boys and girls.
"We can't just bury our heads in the sand and say this stuff doesn't happen," Acup said. "We have to be realistic in our thinking."
"You've got to be able to let your kids talk to you. They need to know they can come to and talk. If they think you're just going to go off the deep end, they won't come to you," Lopez said.
Lopez said there have been a few cases that he's been aware in the last few years, but said that he's noticed teens becoming less tolerant of physical abuse. He said the kids comment on the things they see happening with entertainers such as the widely reported domestic violence situation between Chris Brown and Rihanna.
"It's no longer hidden, it's out there. They say things like he should never have touched her. The kids don't put up with it," Lopez said of the student population as a whole.
Lopez talks with each grade at the beginning of the year to discuss issues such as teen dating violence, drugs, and other issues. The students are allowed to ask questions and Lopez said he keeps an eye on certain students based on questions they may have asked.
As an example, Lopez said that a student asked, in one of these assemblies, "What is considered assault?"
Lopez said that when a student is asking that kind of question, it often means that they may have experienced something that might constitute assault or know someone who has.
According to www.loveisrespect.org, a website dedicated to helping and educating teens about teen dating violence, "only 33 percent of teens who were in a violent relationship ever told anyone about the abuse."
When asked why teens don't tell, Acup and Knoeck said there were likely many contributing factors to silence on the subject including self esteem issues, a desire to be popular, not wanting to be labelled or cause trouble, not wanting to get someone else in trouble, fear, believing the behavior is normal, and other possibilities.
According to LoveIsRespect.org, "81 percent of parents believe teen dating violence is not an issue or admit they don't know if it's an issue."
A BreakTheCycle.org survey revealed that 82 percent of parents felt confident that they could recognize the signs "if their child was experiencing dating abuse," however "58 percent could not correctly identify all the warning signs of abuse."
Lopez discussed some of the signs that parents may not pay a lot of attention to and pointed out that boys are just as much at risk as girls.
According to Lopez, parents should watch for changes in their teens' demeanor, changes in the way they dress, and some obvious warning signs such as marks or bruises.
For boys, abuse tends to be more emotional, according to Lopez.
"He no longer hangs out with his friends, his demeanor changes, he has to constantly answer his phone, the girlfriend takes up most of their time," Lopez said.
Lopez, Acup, and Knoeck all said that abuse begins with control. The other person tries to control where the teen goes, who they talk to, what they wear, and demand a lot of attention.
"Where are you? What are you doing? Why didn't you answer your phone? Why did it take you so long to answer my text?" Lopez said are the kinds of questions that will be demanded of a teen in danger of experiencing teen dating violence.
"Pay attention. You'll notice those little things," Lopez offered as advice to parents.