By: EMMA CHASTAIN
First, ask yourself, do you know three teenagers? Ten? Did you know that ⅓ of teenagers will experience physical, verbal, or emotional dating abuse in the United States alone? Only ⅓ of these victims will come out and tell someone. Did you know that 1/10 high schoolers will report experiencing physical abuse from their partners? How about that 38% of date rape victims are between the ages of 14 and 17? These rates are infiltrating—often silently— your social circles with toxicity. This toxicity is not only in dating violence, but in our society’s lack of awareness around the subject.
Teen Dating Violence (TDV) Awareness week in Benicia was put on by the Kyle Hyland Foundation. They hosted a week’s worth of educational and supportive events meant to bring awareness to the quietly raging issue of TDV. The Paw went to some of the events organized by the Kyle Hyland Foundation throughout the week. The first informational Zoom Presentation, by a family and marriage counselor named Crystal Luna-Yarnell, delivered an alarming amount of information about the rate at which teenagers experience dating violence, but also about what abuse is, and why abusers do what they do.
When discussing the topic of why a teen might abuse their significant other, Luna-Yarnell made it very clear that the goal is almost always to “exert power and control”. For one, this is done physically. This means “The intentional use of force” in any physical way. It is the most easily (visually) recognized abuse. She asks us to remember that, “Even the first instance of violence is abuse”. Many abusers get away with violent abuse in the beginning because of promises that it will never happen again.
Similarly, sexual abuse is often not considered what it is. It shares both emotional and physical aspects. Luna-Yarnell clarified sexual abuse as “any sexual act that is forced against someone’s will through non-consent or an inability to consent to the act”. Realize, that this includes physical and non-physical acts of a sexual nature (includes guilting someone into having sex, voyeurism, unwanted touching, knowingly exposing them to STDs, etc).
76% of all TDV that is reported is emotional. Verbal aggression, the humiliation of partners (public or private), controlling what they can and can’t do or say, and withholding information from partners, are all tools used by abusers to exert control over their victims.
Abuse isn’t necessarily a consistent occurrence throughout a relationship. It can take its time to feed off of the relationship and flourish and grow into its more obvious form. “Maybe we just aren’t sure if this is normal; if this is ok,” Luna-Yarnell said about the preliminary signs of abuse. Our lack of discussions surrounding the topic, and the lack of awareness of the vast shadow it casts over teen relationships, may lead many victims to overlook what is being done to them. And focus on, as Luna-Yarnell put it, “a part of that cycle where it feels really good”.
Sadly, TDV is an issue that will not be left behind as we grow into our society. It, like many other things, evolves to exist in a new environment. Cyber abuse is a growing issue that now affects teens more than ever. Defined as “emotional abuse that carries over to cyberspace” cyber abuse can take shape as things such as the abuser using coercion to get the victim to send pictures of themself, frequently checking and monitoring their location, sharing or taking inappropriate pictures of their partner, and even tagging them in memes or social media posts that are meant to harm or offend the victim.
The lack of knowledge surrounding the issue of TDV is prevalent in statistics as well. In fact, 82% of parents felt confident in their knowledge of TDV and how great an issue it is, as discovered in the study done by Teen Research Unlimited. Of that 82%, 42% could correctly identify signs of abuse. Its prevalence and our lack of awareness of it need to balance out, and this can only happen when we learn and expose each other to necessary knowledge.
Planning for safety for yourself and others begins with recognizing the signs. Extreme jealousy, an explosive temper, being possessive and controlling, physical aggression, false accusations, constant verbal put-downs can serve as warning signs of an abusive relationship. From a victim, you may notice withdrawal from ordinary activities, unexplained mood swings, obsessive privacy, self-harm or suicidal behavior, uncharacteristically apologetic or fearful behavior, or being anxious and nervous when away from their partner. Following the recognition of toxicity, tell someone, document the abuse, think about safety and get professional support.
The Kyle Hyland Foundation provided our town’s students with the environment needed to do this, and if you didn’t take advantage of the presentations when they were given, the Kyle Hyland Foundation’s YouTube channel has it available.