As mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, friends, neighbors and colleagues, this is an important time for all of us to join together to help stem the tide of teen dating violence. The month of February is designated Teen Dating Violence and Awareness Month, for good reason. Far too many of our youth and young adults experience violence in their lives. In one study, for example, nearly one in ten high school students had been hit, slapped or physically hurt, on purpose, by a boyfriend or girlfriend. Youth ages 12 to 19 experience very high rates of rape and sexual assault. These teen years should be a time for developing, and enjoying, healthy relationships, and it is incumbent on all of us to help change the course of this path. We need to avert the depression, poor school performance, emotional and physical impacts, and substance abuse that so often we see in connection with teen dating violence.
There is much we can do – and are doing. We at OVW are proud to be supporting the That’sNotCool.com website where teens can learn about controlling and abusive behaviors and learn to draw their own “digital lines” of appropriate and healthy relationships. We are also excited to be supporting the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline. OVW recently funded the expansion of the Helpline to include text messaging and provide all services 24 hours a day. Young people can text “loveis” to 77054 and connect with a trained advocate. Since launching text capacity in September 2011, the Helpline has conducted over 10,000 chat and text conversations with young people in need. And, under the Vice President’s leadership, we have the very innovative 1is2many campaign (www.whitehouse.gov/1is2many). For more information about how to help, check out the official TDV awareness month website, www.teendvmonth.org. Raising awareness and talking about these realities is an important step in prevention, and I hope you will all find ways to do so during the month of February.
Just hours ago I returned from a trip abroad, participating in two back-to-back events. In Almaty, Kazakhstan, the United Nations Committee for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women (known as UNWomen) convened a meeting of the former Soviet countries to discuss progress in implementing domestic violence legislation. In the 20 years since the break-up of the Soviet Union, these countries have gradually been adopting and updating legislation to address domestic violence and sexual assault.
Just as in the United States, though, change does not come easily. Passing a law, albeit a challenge in itself, is just the first step. But these men and women are committed to addressing the scourge of abuse against women in their countries, and took this opportunity to learn from one another, and from the United States with how we have implemented the Violence Against Women Act. Of particular interest and activity in these countries is the use of civil protective orders to ensure safety and protection for abused women and their children. Advocates for Human Rights (AHR) in Minnesota, under the leadership of Cheryl Thomas, have been instrumental in providing leadership over the past decade, and it was a privilege to work alongside the team to continue forging recommendations for ending violence against women in these countries.
Thereafter I had the opportunity to participate as part of the United States’ delegation to Part II of the Special Commission of the Hague Convention on the 1980 Child Abduction Convention. Under the leadership of James Pettit, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Overseas Citizens Services in the Bureau of Consular Affairs, and his team which included Michael Coffee, Beth Payne, Corrin Ferber, Lisa Vogel, and Katherine Penberthy, as well as Judge Judith Kreeger, one of the Hague Network Judges, from Miami, FL, and Betsy McAllister Groves from Boston Medical Center, we spent the week looking at how the Convention could be strengthened. One of the key areas is with regard to Section 13(b), the grave risk exception. The Convention was adopted for the purpose of expediting return of abducted children, wrongfully taken from their primary caregiver. However, over time, we have learned that often it is the primary caregiver who is leaving with or retaining the children out of concern for their safety. Section 13(b) includes an important exception to the expeditious return proceeding by recognizing that there may be circumstances where return would place the child at grave risk of harm or an otherwise intolerable situation. Domestic violence can, in many circumstances, constitute grave risk. At the conclusion of the meeting, the body, comprised of 150 representatives from over 90 countries, adopted a recommendation to be submitted to the Council on General Affairs and Policy in April, for there to be development of a Guide to Good Practice that will, among many other things, address this issue. Once again, it was a privilege to work with the State Department on such an important issue, and we are grateful for their outreach and engagement.
The reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act continues to move forward. This vital legislation has profoundly changed our national landscape and improved – and in many cases, saved – the lives of many women, children and men. Talking with women and men from Albania, Kazakhstan, Russia, Bulgaria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and many other countries brought the point full circle. Violence against women is – sadly – a worldwide phenomenon. We are in this together. What was so impressive to UNWomen and the participants at this conference was the extent to which our national leaders are committed to ending violence against women in this country. To see Republicans and Democrats alike, standing together, to end violence was enormously impactful. I hope this shared commitment continues.
With much respect and gratitude for all that you do, every day, in your communities,
Susan B. Carbon