New York Times Reports on Dating Violence in Young Teenagers

Nikki Ditto, WLP Intern

An article published last week in the New York Times addresses the problem of dating violence among young teenagers, including those who have not yet entered high school. According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control, teen dating violence remains a significant problem, and the behaviors can begin to appear in teens as young as eleven and twelve.  

Studies that emerged over a decade ago showed that the group most at risk for dating violence and sexual assault was girls age 16 to 24. This report helped to increase funding and prevalence of programs aimed to educate teenagers about healthy relationships. While these programs have made an impact, reports show that they may not be starting early enough to catch the dangerous behaviors before they start.

A study conducted in 2010 by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation surveyed 1,430 seventh graders from eight middle schools across the country. The study found that three-quarters of the students had been in a relationship. One in three had already experienced psychological dating violence, and one in six had experienced physical violence.

Thankfully, this information has encouraged the development of new programs and resources that provide early intervention and instruction. These programs target middle school students, as well as their parents, in the hope that they can teach warning signs and good decision making early. While the reports and the new early intervention programs recognize that males and females can be both the abuser and the abused, women and girls are still disproportionately the victims of dating violence.

Psychologically and physically abusive relationships that begin in the early teenage years can cause long-term patterns of abuse that continue into adulthood.We discussed the adverse health effects of intimate partner violence in our report, Through the Lens of EQUALITY: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women. While the report focuses on adult women, teenagers are at risk as well.

The New York Times article was released as Congress debates reauthorizing VAWA. This is the first time since the bill was passed in 1994 that reauthorization has been challenged, and support has been divided along party lines. In this year’s reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the age limit for participants in programs funded with federal grant money has been lowered to eleven. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has also given $1 million grants to each of 11 schools nation-wide in order to establish programs in middle schools that educate students about healthy teen relationships. More than ever, funding and education are needed to help to stop intimate partner violence, and protect and provide services for victims.

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