February is the commemorative month for Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention. The importance of recognizing and addressing these issues has been highlighted by the recent spattering of high profile domestic violence cases: Rihanna and Chris Brown, the murder of Yeardley Love by her ex-boyfriend and now, most recently, the sheriff of San Francisco, Ross Mirkarimi. While the court process is just beginning for the sheriff, he has already made some questionable comments that throw up some red flags, such as the outdated sentiment that domestic violence is “a private matter, a family matter.”
Domestic violence is not a private matter. It impacts approximately 2.3 million people each year in the United States who are raped and/or physically assaulted by a current or former spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend. It comes at us from all angles. Abuse in relationships exists among all classes, races and cultural groups, although women between ages 16 and 24 are nearly three times more vulnerable to intimate partner violence. 16 to 24? That’s us! So what is being done and can be done to change social perceptions or norms related to dating abuse?
This violence affects everyone in the immediate community surrounding victims and batterers. We hear of unhealthy and abusive relationships in headlines, conversations with friends and families, stories, texts and Facebook threads. Many professionals — teachers, counselors, lawyers, health and social workers — are trained in domestic violence and abuse protocols and reporting, but they are not the only ones who can help. Violence is a community issue, and it’s everyone’s duty to hold batterers accountable for their actions. Providing information on healthy, unhealthy and abusive relationships, as well as ways for witnesses of abuse to be empowered bystanders, are some of the current intervention strategies being used.
There are also many coordinated efforts under way to explain how to stand up for others, safely leave an abusive relationship and seek justice for the crimes of abuse. The Red Flag Campaign was created to help people recognize abuse or potential for abuse early. Men Can Stop Rape created a campaign to take a stand against relationship violence. There are also sports mentoring programs. As mentioned on the National Consortium for Academics and Sports website, their program is “focused on motivating student athletes and student leaders to play a central role in solving problems historically considered to be women’s issues: rape, battering, and sexual harassment. Participants learn that there is not simply ‘one way’ to confront violence, but that each individual can learn valuable skills to build their personal resolve and to act when faced with difficult or threatening life situations.”
These organizations are all targeting intervention at the individual level, so check them out and see how you can take a stand for the people in your life.
In addition to individual awareness programs, Berkeley has many resources for people to seek help, support and training, as well as volunteer and work opportunities. The Gender Equity Resource Center has a link that details many of the resources in the area. Check them out! The Tang Center also offers counseling services to all students, and SHIP insurance covers these costs.
Many steps can be taken to build awareness of the harms of dating violence as well as the proactive steps for its prevention. There are many organizations and state officials working for improvement in these arenas. The California Partnership to End Domestic Violence has a Public Policy and Research Committee and Teen Dating Violence subcommittee that advocates for public policies and institutional practices to promote healthy relationships and prevent TDV. They believe that by joining together and sharing expertise, families, communities, advocates and legislators can end domestic violence. See how you could support their upcoming campaigns or join the movement and spread the word through Facebook and Twitter.
So what else can be done to address the cycle of abuse? There have been many movements within education to create and implement anti-bullying, anti-violence and empowered leadership curriculum in elementary, middle and high schools. This movement to cut off the cycle of abuse at an early age has come out of recognition that one in four adolescents reports verbal, emotional, physical or sexual dating violence each year. Fifteen to 40 percent of youth report perpetrating violence toward a dating partner. Dating abuse is associated with many adverse outcomes, including truancy, use of alcohol and drugs, eating disorders, depression and suicide. None of these issues is private, and society is beginning to take responsibility for the harms of domestic violence. Are you?
Anna Johnson is a first-year graduate student in the Goldman School of Public Policy and an intern with the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence.