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When Teen Dating Becomes Dangerous; What Parents Need to Know

When Dating is DangerousNote: This is part of an ongoing series provided by Hews Media Group-Community Newspaper reporters about issues that affect every member of our community. Reporter Tammye McDuff takes a deeper look into the dangers teens face in dating and what parents need to know to keep them safe.

By Tammye McDuff

The month of February has long been associated with hearts, flowers and love, but it is also Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.
Peace Over Violence Foundation held their fifth Violence Free Teens Conference, February 3rd at The California Endowment Center located in Los Angeles. Peace Over Violence is in their 42nd year of educating the public about sexual assault, domestic violence, youth violence and the prevention of these domestic traumas. The conference focused on the impact parents and families have in preventing teen dating violence. Barrie Levy and Patti Giggans, were the guest speakers, they are the authors of When Dating Becomes Dangerous: A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Relationship Abuse. Giggans and Levy spoke on the importance of strong family relationships when dealing with abuse in teenage dating, stressing the importance of constant communication between teen and parent as the most vital preventative element.
In surveys of high school and college age students, one in three teenage youth, both male and female, are a victim of dating violence. Levy stated that these numbers came from questions such as ‘Have you ever been hit, punched, bruised or forced into sexual situations while in a dating relationship.’ Levy goes on to state that these types of abusive relationships are parallel to an individual dating pattern, stating if dating began at 12, then the abuse could begin at 12, subsequently if dating began at 20 then so did the abusive relationship. One of the critical shifts discovered while investigating teen dating violence, was to begin education in prevention at a young age, before dating begins.
Levy states “There have been many contradictive statements from boys, about never having hit a woman, however listening to the full story there other things that are going on such as coercion, verbal abuse and criticism”. “Women tend to make things complicated” continues Levy “What we address are the contradictions in the way men and boys have been raised and the way that women and girls have been taught to deal with relationships. We want families to have conscious conversations about what is expected in intimate relationships, rather than going by social or cultural platitudes. There is a difference in feeling angry and making somebody suffer because of it. We are teaching ways to handle frustration in productive manners instead of using violence.”
“Think about it” Giggans articulates “If somebody is willing to use violence to get their way, feels entitled to express their anger whenever and where ever they feel like it, who it hurts or scares and we tell them not to do that, we also need to tell, show and give other methods of conveying frustration.”
Giggans and Levy offer proper skill sets to handle emotional upsets and conflicts. Talking to parents in this book, Giggans and Levy get beyond teaching people how not to be violent, but also offering all the ways, we as adults, can help teenagers have healthy relationships.
Mariska Hargitay wrote the forward for When Dating Becomes Dangerous. She is also President and Founder of Joyful Heart Foundation located in New York. This is the sister organization to Peace Over Violence. Hargitay began to receive letters expressing the desire for law enforcement to be as understanding in the real world as the detectives are on her television role. In an HMG exclusive quote, Hargitay relays the heart wrenching requests from victims of domestic abuse “When I began in my role as Detective Olivia Benson on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, I was new to the idea of being an advocate. I understood advocacy in general terms—that certain individuals in our society are more vulnerable and that we have a responsibility to speak up for them. The letters I received were much more than fan mail, they spoke of pain, fear, and isolation, of lives filled with deep uncertainty, deeper shame, and dim hopes for a future. Patti Giggans and Barrie Levy have done powerful work in the anti-violence field. Their commitment, passion, and wealth of experience have changed the lives. Patti and Barrie have been a blessing as teachers on my parallel path of actor and advocate squarely address society’s ingrained victim-blaming attitudes. With expertise, clarity, and compassion, they help us see the issues from multiple perspectives, all within the context of a deep understanding of the cumulative impact of trauma exposure, and the very real dangers that exist as survivors plan their exit from violent relationships.”
Young people need to get the information. School policies need to shift. Teachers need to be educated. Giggans and Levy are on a mission to better equip youth and parents in a nonjudgmental environment. The purpose is to prepare and know what to look for, what to expect and what to do.