Editor’s Note: The following is a column written by Debra Greenwood, president/CEO of The Center for Family Justice.
Being a teenager can be an exciting time when the world seems so filled with possibilities.
High school might be coming or, for older teens, college may be on the horizon. Many are getting ready for prom, learning to drive or playing sports. These times should be a coming of age, bringing an awareness of what it is to be a young adult.
However, too many teens – 1 in 4 according to our state’s education officials — have had to face something that they never should have to – violence in their dating relationships.
Violence can take many shapes – physical and emotional abuse, sexual abuse, stalking and harassing, and online bullying.
The impact on a young person who has suffered this abuse can also take many forms – depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, feelings of isolation if no one believes them, and having trouble with other relationships.
The numbers prove just how serious this issue is.
According to Connecticut’s Department of Education, 26 percent of high school students in the state have been in verbally or emotionally abusive relationships with nine percent reporting they were in a physically abusive dating relationship and another 11 percent in a sexually abusive relationship.
Some are more at risk to dating violence than others – girls experienced higher rates of physical and sexual dating violence than boys, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC also reports that students who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, experienced higher rates of physical and sexual dating violence compared to students who identify as heterosexual.
Here at CFJ – those who have experienced this kind of violence have access to the help they need to recognize when this is happening to them, talk about it, and take steps to address it.
Take the story of Ella* – a 15-year-old girl – whose mother called the hotline seeking our help after her daughter left an abusive relationship.
Ella, who had already been dealing with the trauma of being assaulted at a party a few years earlier, was trying to navigate the dating world when she met her boyfriend online. After two months of dating, his behavior changed, as he started to isolate Ella from family and friends, making her more dependent on him for emotional support.
Ella’s grades started to suffer, and she was arguing with her parents. Fortunately, her parents and her friends helped Ella realize the negative impact this relationship was having on her.
After coming to CFJ, Ella was assigned to our Domestic and Sexual Violence Advocate to begin counseling services. CFJ offers psycho-educational counseling that teaches clients about the dynamics of abuse such as red flags in relationships and learning to set boundaries.
Ella is rebuilding her relationships with her parents and her friends and knows what red flags to watch out for in the future.
Local youth we work with say manipulation and ‘guilting’ are among the most common red flags they see in relationships. They tell us that adults need to be active listeners and help guide them so they can build relationships that are healthy.
We want to take this opportunity to let people know that they can come to us if they need help and support.
Navigating the world can be difficult and emotional, especially for our youth. We at CFJ want to make sure no one feels like they must go it alone.
*Name has been changed to protect the client’s identity.