Where did the summer go? Labor Day has come and gone, and millions of young people are back their classrooms for the beginning of another school year. It can be an exciting time for families – you may have seen proud family members and loved ones posting first-day-of-school photos on social media – but it can also be a stressful time for young people.
Being an adolescent is often difficult, and the last two years have been particularly challenging; research shows 44% of teenagers experienced feelings of sadness and hopelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic. Young people experience tremendous physical changes and brain development in adolescence. At the same time, for many teens and preteens, social circles expand to include dating relationships – and while many of these are positive, some are coercive, violent, or physically, sexually, or emotionally abusive.
This can be tough for caregivers to talk about – many of us don’t even want to think about our kids dating, much less being hurt by a dating partner – but it is more common than lots of parents or teachers realize. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System show that 9% of high school girls reported physical dating violence in the last year, and nearly 13% also reported being victims of sexual dating violence. Gay, lesbian, or bisexual students were victimized at a higher level, with 13% reporting being victims of physical dating violence and 16% victimized by sexual dating violence.
There’s a real toll on the lives behind these statistics: teen dating violence survivors report they have lower self-esteem and emotional well-being, as well as were more likely to experience eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, and attempts of self-harm. These challenges are among the many reasons why the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) is so committed to supporting community programs and advocates who are eager to work with young people.
Through OVW’s Grants to Prevent and Respond to Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault, Stalking, and Sex Trafficking Against Children and Youth and Grants to Engage Men and Boys as Allies in the Prevention of Violence Against Women and Girls Program (Consolidated Youth Program), our grantees are providing critical services to help young people who are survivors of these crimes. Grantees offer direct counseling, advocacy, and mentoring services, and provide support for a non-abusing parent or the child’s caretaker.
For instance, the SAFE Alliance in Austin, Texas, used OVW funding to work directly with children from pre-kindergarten through high school to prevent domestic and sexual abuse by providing opportunities for group activities, safe dating workshops, and social emotional skills groups both during and after school hours. In New York City, OVW funds allowed the Ali Forney Center to add therapists and hire a clinical coordinator to provide support to and work with LGBTQI+ youth who are at risk of homelessness. In St. Paul, Minnesota, Esperanza United hired a men and boys coordinator to work with Latino youth, engaging them as allies for women and girls to prevent domestic violence and sexual assault. Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse, based in Delray Beach, Florida, worked with youth participants to create two songs, a music video, and a comic book for outreach and engagement with their peers.
As Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta has said, “Preventing and ending violence creates a more equal and equitable world for women and girls, and people of all genders who experience harm.” We are grateful to all of our grantees – and the teachers, parents, guardians, and advocates – who are doing the important and necessary work to prevent domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking, and help youth who suffer these forms of harm.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking, there are many services available to help. love is respect offers 24/7 information, support, and advocacy to young people between the ages of 13 and 26 who have questions or concerns about their romantic relationships. It can be reached at 1-866-331-9474, by texting ‘LOVEIS’ to 22522, or visiting loveisrespect.org. Other helpful resources include the National Domestic Violence Hotline thehotline.org, the Stronghearts Native Helpline – strongheartshelpline.org, and the National Sexual Assault Hotline – www.rainn.org. On OVW’s Local Resources page, you can find your state’s domestic violence and sexual assault coalitions, which can direct you to local resources and services, as well as opportunities to get involved.