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March 3, 2010 > Partner abuse knows no minimum age

Partner abuse knows no minimum age

Submitted By Helen Zou

It starts relatively small: put downs, nagging jealousy, subtle intimidations. But then it escalates. There are threats now, some pushing, some hitting - it's an abusive relationship, and unfortunately, it's a relationship that can feel almost impossible to leave.

One in five couples report some kind of violence in their relationship. Approximately one in three high school students have been, or will become, involved in an abusive relationship as a teen.

It is as alarming of a statistic as it is shocking: females, aged 16 to 24, suffer violence at the hands of an intimate partner at a rate that is almost triple the national average.

Young people may be more vulnerable to violent romantic relationships because they don't recognize the warning signs, or they may feel too flushed with infatuation that they ignore the signs; or perhaps they think it's normal, or maybe they think that they're to blame for the violence. That's why February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness month - to educate young people about the foundations of a healthy dating relationship and how to constructively deal with the overwhelming emotions that can lead to abuse.

Abuse is unpredictable and frightening, but there are recognizable behaviors that lead down this dangerous, slippery cliff. One partner may act extremely jealous or possessive. They might be controlling, unpredictable, scary. They violate their partner's personal privacy by checking their partner's calls, texts, or emails. A slow social isolation begins to crawl upon the partner being abused, and the abused will start feeling cut off from their friends, family, and loved ones. The abused will feel like their decisions and opinions are ignored, or worse, met with intimidations or threats until they feel forced into doing what their partner wants.

What it boils down to is power. The abuser needs and demands more and more power in the relationship until the abused feels completely isolated and powerless and the abuser has complete dominance.

So why do so many people stay in these abusive relationships?

Hope and love often open the gates to the honeymoon stage. There's shame, embarrassment and guilt. People minimize and rationalize. There's peer pressure. Fear.

Once someone is stuck in the cycle, it can become harder and harder to think clearly and make the healthy, and safer, decision. This is why teen dating education is so crucial in setting a positive pattern of how relationships should work and what shouldn't happen in a healthy relationship. Teens learn of the necessity of compromise, mutual respect, and acceptance that needs to exist for any relationship to be healthy. They learn about the importance of equality.

Kavita Khandekar, Community Engagement Specialist at SAVE (Safe Alternatives to Violent Environments) conducts Teen Dating Violence Education presentations at high schools all across the Bay Area. She has seen the impact that early education has in changing a teen's perspective on what makes a relationship worth being in and what makes a relationship unhealthy.

"Recently after presenting to a 9th grade health class, I counseled two girls and one boy during lunchtime and after school. All of them could see how their relationship fit into the cycle of violence," Kavita said.

"One girl stressed the fact that much of the behaviors she saw on the unhealthy side were actions and behaviors both she and her partner did in their relationship. At the end of the session she felt confident in her decision to end her relationship based on what she had learned throughout the period."

In the past year, SAVE has educated over 2,000 teens at 13 high schools, spanning 6 counties, and is expanding its outreach network every day. SAVE also offers its Teen Dating Violence Education presentations to community groups, non-profits, college campus groups and middle schools around the Bay Area. The focus of these presentations is to empower youth with knowledge; to help our youth understand the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships, to give them examples of what abuse is, and to show them how the cycle of violence can manifest itself in different ways, not just physically. The idea is basic: the more informed young people are, the more prepared they are to make better decisions. SAVE hopes to work with all the high schools in Alameda County by the end of this year, and any other school, community group, or organizations who would like their services.

For more information about SAVE's Teen Dating Violence Education program or to schedule a presentation, contact SAVE at (510) 574-2250 or info@save-dv.org. You can also view SAVE's DateSafe DVD at www.save-dv.org.

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