On Jan. 31, 2011, President Obama declared February National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, stating, “This declaration reflects our nation’s growing understanding that violence within relationships often begins during adolescence. Each year, about one in four teens report being the victim of verbal, physical, emotional or sexual violence. Abusive relationships can impact adolescent development and teens who experience dating violence may suffer long-term negative behavioral and health consequences. Adolescents in controlling or violent relationships may carry these dangerous and unhealthy patterns into future relationships.”
When I quoted the above statistic – one in four teens report being the victim of dating violence – and expressed my outrage at this high statistic, it sparked a PoliFact article in which the reporter determined that the “definition of dating violence is too wide.”
His view is not only troubling, but in stark contrast with experts in the field. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), teen dating violence is defined as “the physical, sexual, or psychological / emotional violence within a dating relationship, as well as stalking. It can occur in person or electronically and may occur between a current or former dating partner.”
We clearly see that dating abuse can take many forms – it is not just physical violence – but the common factor is that the abuse is focused on controlling the victim. Stalking, threatening, isolating and controlling a dating partner are certainly violent behavior, aimed at wounding the psyche of the victim. This type of abuse can also be part of an escalating cycle of violence within a relationship.
A study recently completed by Liz Claiborne Love is Not Abuse revealed that dating violence occurs at alarming rates among college students and found that 43 percent of college women surveyed say they’ve experienced violent or abusive dating behavior, including physical, sexual, verbal, controlling or cyber abuse. Some 28 percent of college men reported experiencing similar behavior, and 22 percent of college women report being the victim of actual physical or sexual abuse or threats of physical violence.
If these numbers are not enough to outrage us, think about this: abuse in a dating relationship is especially damaging to a developing adolescent or a college student, who may be away from home for the first time. The CDC website states, “As teens develop emotionally, they are heavily influenced by their relationship experiences. Unhealthy, abusive or violent relationships can cause short-term and long-term negative effects, or consequences to the developing teen. Victims of teen dating violence are more likely to do poorly in school and report binge drinking, suicide attempts and physical fighting. Victims may also carry the patterns of violence into future relationships.”
My work with advocates against dating violence began when I sponsored the Lindsay Ann Burke Act, in memory of Lindsay. I have been humbled and honored to work with the Foundation that bears her name, in her memory, to raise awareness and educate young people about the signs of dating violence. I am proud to work with advocates to spread the message that emotional, psychological, sexual and physical violence are all forms of dating violence, so that young people will be empowered with the knowledge and tools to recognize an abusive relationship and they will be better equipped to protect themselves.
Beatrice Lanzi is a Democrat Senator who represents Cranston.