Domestic violence has been a huge topic in the media over the past year. We’ve seen how certain high-profile football players’ lives have been examined because of the abuse of their wives and partners. The NFL has been called into question for their seeming lack of awareness and punishment for these crimes committed.
In all of these stories we hear an adult perspective and when we read about the statistics on intimate partner violence, it is often in the case of adults. But what about teens? Teen dating violence is a very serious issue, because if you think about it, a lot of abusive behavior and patterns of abuse start in perpetrators at a very young age, often influences by their own upbringing and their environment.
It only makes sense to tackle this issue at the root, before they carry this crime into adulthood. Statistics show 85% of intimate partner violence occurs toward women, and 15% toward men.
1 in 4 women in America are likely to be victims of severe intimate partner violence, over 4 million women a year experience this kind of abuse, and every day 3 women are killed due to domestic violence.
Where do teens factor in with those stats? 33% of adolescents in America are victims of sexual, physical, verbal or emotional dating abuse. 25% of high school girls have been abused physically or sexually, and are more likely to contract an STD or carry an unwanted pregnancy.
Violent behavior often starts somewhere between 6th-12th grade, and the wost part of these statistics is that 8 states in the US today do not consider a violent dating relationship domestic abuse. Therefore, adolescents, teens, and 20-somethings are unable to apply for a restraining order for protection from the abuser.
It becomes a problem when teens cannot even rely on the law to protect them from this violence. Which is why a group of teen girls in Texas are working to change the legislation in their state in order to protect their peers from becoming victims.
A group of 6th, 7th and 8th grade girls from East Texas grouped together to create a PSA about teen dating violence. They raised just over $1400 by putting on a haunted house around Halloween time to fund the video production.
The girls took part in an incubator program created by non-profit organization Destination Imagination which was created to encourage and equip the leaders, innovators and activists of tomorrow.
The video and their project was originally intended to raise awareness about the issue of teen dating violence just amongst their own peers, but what has resulted was something they never expected. Since February is also teen dating violence awareness month, it seems the girls picked the right topic at the right time.
After the release of the video, the girls were asked to speak with lawmakers at the Texas Capitol on Feb 3rd about amending a current bill which apparently requires public schools in Texas to to have a policy in place for dealing with and educating students about teen dating violence. The girls feel the law isn’t being properly enforced and told legislators it needs to be changed.
The current law in place was enacted in 2007 and created in part with help from the Texas Council on Family Violence. Jezebel reports that the girls met with the director of this organization to talk about this issue further. And now, a new bill is being proposed that would create a work group to analyze current policies and find a better way to implement dating violence programs in Texas public schools.
Their small PSA project has turned into potentially changing the laws in the states on domestic violence awareness in schools, but the girls told reporter Hannah Smothers they hope their endeavors will also create more awareness amongst their peers about the prevalence of teen dating violence.
Eighth grader Ashlyn Ellgass says when the group were looking for a cause to focus their Destination Imagination project on, they heard of a horrific case where a guy poured lighter fluid down a girl’s throat. When they started doing more research around their own community and school, they found cases of violence were more prominent than they thought and decided to focus their attentions on this issue.
“We found that there were multiple cases where the boyfriend was abusing the girlfriend. And it’s not always physically—it’s usually mentally. Whenever we saw that, we just knew that we needed to help,” she said.
“We thought that the PSA would be the most effective way to send the message. We’re trying to show people, girls mostly—but sometimes it’s the other way around—that you can stand up for yourself and you don’t have to be controlled in the relationship, and that there are other ways to go than just to let people control you.”
After making the video they contacted local organization Texas Advocacy Project to promote their services in the PSA, and have since been working in conjunction with them to spread the message about teen dating violence. It was the TAP who helped the girls become aware of the existing bill that needed to be amended.
“Our main goal now, with everything that we’ve been doing, is that we’re trying to create a task force to come together and look at and evaluate this bill and find the most effective way to implement it into our schools. What we know that can actually happen, or the most promise we can get, is for someone to actually evaluate the law because it hasn’t been enforced,” said Ashlyn before adding that they hope their endeavors and awareness will eventually extend beyond just the state of Texas.
Their efforts seem to be working because the girls say they have had other girls and teens come up to them and ask them for a list of signs to look out for. It’s pretty impressive to see the change these girls are creating, and they started small.
It is an important reminder to all of us that there is nothing we cannot achieve if we are intentional about change. Making big changes always starts with small steps, and these East Texas girls are living proof we all have resources available to us.
Here are some statistics about teen dating violence: