The month of February was National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month.
It provided a good opportunity to raise awareness of the problem of teen dating violence and provide information about the importance of healthy relationships to young victims, their families, and their communities.
Teen dating violence is often hidden and unreported. Not only do teens often lack the experience to navigate romantic relationships, they may also be unable to voice their feelings or communicate when emotional situations take a turn for the worse. If adolescents have the courage to tell their friends about being in an abusive relationship, statistics show that more often than not, their friends do not know what to do to get them help. Studies show that children who are victimized or witness violence often carry this experience with them to the playground, classroom and later to teen relationships and ultimately adult intimate partner violence.
As professionals, parents, educators, political and business leaders and other members of our local communities, we must model healthy, non-violent relationships. We must also support intervention and prevention efforts, which are key elements to stopping the cycle of abuse.
United States Attorney General Eric Holder’s Defending Childhood initiative is leveraging existing resources across the department to focus on preventing, addressing, reducing, and more fully understanding childhood exposure to violence. In support of this initiative, the Department’s Office on Violence Against Women awarded $5.6 million to 17 organizations that support services for children and caretakers including direct counseling, advocacy or mentoring for children or youth exposed to domestic and dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.
The Office on Violence Against Women administers several youth focused grant programs established by the Violence Against Women Act. These grants provide unique opportunities for communities to increase collaboration among victim service providers, children, youth, and men’s groups and schools to help teens understand healthy relationships. The federal funds help agencies educate the community, teens, and children about the signs of abuse, and assist them in locating services if they or someone they know is experiencing a physically or emotionally abusive relationship.
Working to end violence in families and communities remains one of our highest priorities. We must do all we can to help the millions of children and adolescents across the United States who are victimized and exposed to violence in their homes and communities. When these problems remain unaddressed, children are at higher risk for school failure, substance abuse, repeat victimization, and, perhaps, most disturbingly, perpetrating violent behavior later in their own lives. It is our responsibility to address this serious issue and protect our children.
Timothy J. Heaphy is United States Attorney for the Western District of Virginia