February is the shortest month of the year, best known for a weather forecasting groundhog and the shots called by a chubby arrow-wielding marksman.
Meanwhile, the Center Against Sexual and Domestic Abuse, Inc. is busy combing through surveys given to 184 Superior area high school students ranging in age from 11 to 18, regarding teen dating violence.
In our efforts to better understand the impact of violence in our community, we deemed it crucial to open up dialogue with teens about their experiences with dating today.
Anonymity was stressed when our Children’s Program Coordinator, Alexa, passed out the surveys to students. They were asked to answer 20 yes-or-no questions and then record their age and gender. The survey varied from questions pertaining to social media to “has a current or past boyfriend or girlfriend ever forced you to have sex?”
If reading the last question makes you uneasy, imagine how a teen may feel trying to work out how he or she could approach someone to talk about it.
Who could they talk to? Where could they go for help? About 62 percent of the students said they did not feel they could talk to an adult at school.
As defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention teen dating violence is any physical, sexual or psychological or emotional violence within a dating relationship, as well as stalking. This pattern of behavior is devastating in any form. Of those surveyed, 34 percent reported verbal abuse by a current or previous partner.
These destructive behaviors can also present themselves as pressure to engage in unwanted sexual activity. Of the students that reported feeling pressure to give oral sex or have sexual intercourse, 39 percent gave in. 18 percent of both male and female age groups reported being hit, slapped, pushed, kicked or hurt physically by a partner. According to the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted nationwide by the CDC, 9.4 percent of high school students reported being physically abused in some way. We must ask ourselves a tough question: Why is the number reflected by our survey twice that of the national average?
Question 19 in the survey asked “Do you think you or someone you know has been a victim of dating violence or sexual assault?” The answer, 46 percent of the girls answered yes. Like the CDC’s campaign slogan says, “1 is 2 many.” Of the 184 surveyed students, 68 percent were not being monitored by parents in regard to internet and cell phone use; 31 percent of the teens reported they did not feel they could talk to a parent. Conversation needs to start now and it can start with you.
The conversation is made possible by making yourself available. Ask about your teen’s day, without the distractions of television and cell phones. Give them your attention and be genuinely in the moment with them if you are going to confront them about your concerns. Provide a safe environment. Remain calm. Listen. Be supportive. Don’t judge.
Patterns of abuse will ultimately begin to throw up flags; familiarize yourself with these warning signs. If any of these signs are present, do not delay your conversation.
• Emotional changes, like depression, withdrawal and outbursts.
• Declines in academic performance and extra-curricular activity.
• Isolation from friends and family.
• Belittling self, body, mind and opinion.
• Excessive communication with the partner via calls, text messages, emails and social media.
• Making excuses for the partners actions and emotions especially regarding anger and jealousy.
• Unexplained bruises, scratches, burns, bodily injuries or property damage.
• Coercion to use drugs, drink alcohol or engage in other illegal or risky behaviors.
Instead of wearing red this February, CASDA will be wearing orange in recognition of Teen Dating Violence Awareness month.
Throughout the month of February CASDA will make appearances at Superior, Northwestern, and Solon Springs high schools promoting our “Wear Your Heart on Your Sleeve” campaign. We will take those opportunities to educate students about healthy dating and violence prevention. We will invite them to share their experiences both positive and negative on hearts to display as a visual aide in their school. In a healthy and safe relationship, there is no place for violence and you can safely wear your heart on your sleeve.
If you feel that you or someone you know has been a victim of dating violence or sexual abuse there is help.
You can contact the Center Against Sexual and Domestic Abuse, Inc. 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 715-392-3136, toll free at 800-649-2921 and at www.casda.org.
The services we offer are free and confidential.
No one asks to be violated and no one deserves to be abused.
Amber Popplewell is a Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College of Superior student who serves as the sexual assault program intern for CASDA.