For many teenagers, developing bonds with an intimate partner is an important time in learning how to foster respectful, caring relationships. It’s a vital part of growing up and often comes at a time that can be fraught with anxiety and confusion as they explore and establish their own identities and navigate complex relationships.
As adults, it’s our responsibility to not only model healthy relationships but also listen to young people on how we can support them in forging new connections with dating partners and spotting signs of abuse. Teen dating violence is more than physical or sexual assault – it can also include behaviors that are harder to identify, such as stalking, coercive or controlling behavior, emotional abuse, online harassment, or exploitation. Research from the Centers for Disease Control shows that nearly 1 in 11 female and about 1 in 15 male high school students report experiencing physical dating violence, and approximately 1 in 9 female and 1 in 36 male high school students report having experienced sexual dating violence. And unfortunately, these forms of abuse disproportionally affect youth who are female and/or LGBTQI+.
The Violence Against Women Act was passed in 1994, long before today’s teenagers were even born. And while we are making strides as a nation in reducing intimate partner violence, many young people still experience abuse, aggression, and stalking at the hands of current or former dating partners. This means there is still work to do.
These are difficult issues for families, educators, and other caretakers to discuss with teens. Survivors and or their loved ones may not know where to turn for help – either from a friend or ally, a parent, or a trusted adult at school. But it’s important that teens know that there is help and that they are not alone.
That’s why every February, we recognize Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (TDVAM) to build awareness and rededicate our commitment to ending violence. As President Biden said in his proclamation declaring this National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, “By recognizing the signs of dating and domestic violence, setting positive examples of healthy relationships that lift up instead of tear down, and making it clear that abuses of power are never acceptable, we can build a culture where respect is the norm, dignity is the rule, and safety is the expectation – both online and offline.”
As the landscape of new technology and social media changes, it’s important that there are safeguards to help teens stay safe from online threats and help develop skills to protect themselves from those who seek to cause harm. The Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) is gratified at the launch of the White House Task Force to Address Online Harassment and Abuse, which brings together experts from the criminal justice sector, victim services, and technology fields to create recommendations in making digital spaces safer. OVW is proud to support The Task Force and redouble our commitment to work we have been honored to do with our community partners for nearly 30 years.
Not only is it important to raise awareness, but it’s also critical that we create spaces and opportunities to hear from our current and future leaders on these issues. That’s why this Valentine’s Day OVW hosted the Department of Justice’s TDVAM observance, which featured remarks from Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta. “Those of us who grew up before smartphones sometimes draw a mental distinction between ‘online’ interaction and ‘real life,’ yet this distinction is increasingly obsolete,” she said. “Social media connects us, but it also provides another mechanism for abuse and harassment. For better and for worse, the world is much wider and more accessible to this generation than ever before.”
Held in the Department’s Great Hall, the TDVAM event also gave the nation an opportunity to hear from youth leaders addressing issues related to healthy relationships. These impressive young people were eloquent in talking about the challenges youth face, and the importance of communication, respect, maintaining healthy boundaries and having supportive connections. Events like the TDVAM observance are important to not only raise awareness but to learn from teens who are experts on how we can support their efforts in ending dating violence.
To further commemorate teen dating violence month, OVW just released a solicitation for the Grants to Prevent and Respond to Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault, Stalking, and Sex Trafficking Against Children Youth Program (CY Program), which focuses on programming for children and young adults exposed to violence. For the 2022 fiscal year, we awarded nearly $8 million that supported grantees who help teenagers understand why healthy relationships are important, how to identify signs of abuse, and provide tools to support someone they know. We are thankful to these programs working hard every day to create comprehensive, community-based programs all year long that share the common goal of ending gender-based violence.
If you or someone you know is experiencing dating or domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, there are many services available to help, including the Teen Dating Abuse Hotline, 1-866-331-9474, text ‘LOVEIS’ to 22522, or visit loveisrespect.org. On this DOJ web page, you can find your state’s coalition, which can direct you to local resources and services, as well as opportunities to get involved and help others.
There are also hotlines available, including VictimConnect (call or text 1-855-484-2846), the National Domestic Violence Hotline (call 1-800-799-7233, TTY 1-800-787-3224, or text “START” to 88788), the National Sexual Assault Hotline (call 1-800-656-4673), and the StrongHearts Native Helpline at 1-844-7NATIVE (or 1-844-762-8483), which provides culturally-appropriate services and advocacy to American Indian and Alaska Native survivors.