Valentine’s Day is a time to celebrate loving relation-ships. But maybe it is also a good time for parents to check-in with their teenagers who may be involved in a romantic rela-tionship. If you are a parent of a teenager, do you know the names and faces of three of their friends? Chances are, one of them — maybe your own son or daughter — will be in an abusive relationship.
Fact is, 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. Even more frightening is that if adolescents find the courage to tell their friends about being in an abusive relationship, more times than not their friends won’t know how to get them help.
February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month; it is a great opportunity to raise awareness and focus efforts on breaking the cycle of violence by providing information about services and the importance of healthy rela-tionships to young victims, their families and their communities.
While the nation’s under-standing of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking has increased, so has our awareness that these forms of violence affect all age groups and that violence within relationships often begins during adolescence. However, the pattern of abuse can start much earlier. Studies show that children who are victims of or witness violence may carry this experience with them to the playground, class-room and later to teen rela-tionships and ultimately adult intimate partner violence.
As professionals, parents, educators, political and business leaders and other members of our local communities, we must teach about and model healthy, non-violent relationships. Inter-vention and prevention efforts are key to stopping the cycle of abuse and are priorities at the Department of Justice and here in the District of Kansas.
Attorney General Eric Holder’s Defending Childhood initiative is leveraging existing resources across the department to focus on preventing, addres-sing, reducing, and more fully understanding childhood expo-sure 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 care-takers including direct counsel-ing, 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. Through these grants, federal funds 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. Through these partnerships, agencies can focus on educating the commun-ity, teens, and children about identifying the signs of abuse, and assist them in locating services if they or someone they know is experiencing a physic-ally or emotionally abusive relationship.
Working to end violence in families and communities remains one of the District of Kansas’ highest priorities. Every year, millions of children and adolescents across the United States are victimized and ex-posed to violence in their homes and communities, and often suffer severe long-term emotion-al and physical consequences. When these problems remain unaddressed, children are at higher risk for school failure, substance abuse, repeat vic-timization, and, perhaps, most disturbingly, perpetrating vio-lent behavior later in their own lives. It is our responsibility to address this serious issue and protect our children.
So on this Valentine’s Day, I encourage everybody, especially parents, to look beyond the roses and chocolate-filled hearts that your children may have ex-changed and provide an environment to talk about heal-thy, violence-free relationships.
Grissom is the U.S. attorney for the District of Kansas.