Over a decade ago we learned it was young people (age 16-24) that endured the highest rates of dating violence which catapulted a variety of programs in an effort to decrease the disastrous rates with which young people were experiencing intimate partner violence. Ten years later it appears little has changed. The Center for Disease Control found that today 1 in 10 teenagers still experience dating violence. And some research suggests that teens as young as 11 and 12 have experienced dating violence.
According to the New York Times, this new data has caused many intervention programs to target even younger youth–educating those as young as 11 about the impacts of teen dating violence.
Esta Soler, president of Futures Without Violence, a national anti-violence organization, said there were many reasons to start talking to younger students about abuse.
In middle school, Ms. Soler said, they are rocketing through emotional and social development, beginning to make their own choices. “But they still respond to input from caring adults,” she added. A 2010 study of 1,430 seventh graders in eight middle schools in three cities underscores the need for such education.
The study, commissioned by the Johnson Foundation and released this spring, showed that three-quarters of students had already had a boyfriend or girlfriend. One in three said they had been victims of psychological dating violence; nearly one in six said they had experienced physical dating violence. Almost half said they had been touched in an unwanted sexual way or had been the target of sexual slurs.
Early intervention programs are difficult period–you are working against culture, family dynamics and peer pressure. What you see at home is going to be reflected in what you are doing in your own intimate life (something that took me years to figure out) and what is happening in culture is also going to be subtly reflected in the behavior of young people.
The strongest argument in favor of fully shutting someone like Chris Brown out of the media and holding him accountable for violently beating Rihanna is the impact it has on future generations and their perspectives on dating violence. If we celebrate abusers in primetime they will be celebrated in their communities as well.
There are so many factors that lead to violence being an acceptable condition for someone to live within–including a lack of comprehensive sex ed and the blatant denial that young people engage intimately, celebrating public figures that have a history of domestic violence or a VAWA that is limited in scope and possibility. As long as violence against women is normalized, the fewer spaces we have to explore causes and come up with solutions for the most vulnerable populations.
On a happier note–11 schools nation-wide have been given $1million to implement middle school healthy teen relationship education programs.