February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month! I am excited to introduce myself, Megan Gergen, as the new Teen & Young Adult Advocate at the Domestic Violence & Child Advocacy Center, located in Cleveland. I previously worked with DVCAC at the agency’s emergency shelter as a youth and women’s advocate. After a brief time away, I am happy to be back working at the agency!
In my role, I work with young people, ages 13-24, who have, or who are currently experiencing, dating violence. I assist with risk assessments and safety planning, provide advocacy at police stations and through the court and protection order process as well as provide support and/or connect individuals with counseling referrals or services.
So, what is exactly is dating violence? Dating violence is a patter of behaviors that an abuser uses to gain power and control over a victim. This can be through different forms of abuse including physical (hitting, pushing, slapping, etc), emotional (insults and threats, among others), sexual (touching, coercing, any action that you don’t feel comfortable with), verbal (name calling, yelling, swearing…), and financial abuse (controlling your money, social media, stalking your communications). As many as one in five college females will experience some form of dating violence! And young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence – almost triple the national average. What’s even more staggering is that only 33 per cent of teens and young people ever tell someone about the abuse.
While you most often hear dating violence in terms of “he” as the perpetrator (abuser) and “she” as the victim (survivor) dating violence can affect any couple regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, or economic status. Violence and abuse is about the power and control that a perpetrator uses against a victim and does not express itself in only one form; anyone can be affected by abuse.
If they do not tell you, how will you know if a friend is in an abusive relationship? Here are a few things to look out for:
- Is their significant other overtly jealous?
- Do they display possessive and controlling behavior?
- Have you seen signs of verbal criticism and abuse?
- Does your friend seem withdrawn, depressed, and/or anxious?
- Have they started to socially isolate themselves or drop out of activities?
- Have you noticed changes in their eating or sleeping habits?
- Has your friend started to use alcohol and/or drugs?
- Do they have failing or changes in their grades or class attendance?
- Have you seen changes in your friend’s personal appearance?
- Does your friend receive excessive phone calls, text messages, or other forms of communication from their significant other?
- Have you noticed or seen bruises, scratches, or other injuries on your friend?
There are many things that you can do if you know someone who is in an abusive relationship. Most important, be supportive of your friend. Remind your friend that the abuse is not their fault. Also, listen. Do not judge your friend and remember to support their right to make their own decisions (whether you agree with them or not).
You can also reach out to a trusted counselor, professor or other individual that you trust and feel comfortable with. Check out your schools counseling center, visit www.loveisrespect.org, or check out these FREE phone apps: “Circle of 6” and “Love is Not Abuse.”
For more information about DVCAC’s teen and young adult program, or if you know a young adult who is experiencing dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking, visit our website or contact me, Megan, at 216-229-2420 ext. 256 or email@example.com. You can also call our 24-hour helpline at (216) 391.4357 (HELP).
Megen Gergen is a Teen & Young Adult Advocate at the Domestic Violence & Child Advocacy Center. DVCAC’s mission is to empower individuals, educate the community and advocate for justice to end domestic violence and child abuse.