During my recent research on teen dating violence, I have come to realize something startling. It seems that many young men who are abusive don’t realize the extent of trauma their actions inflict on their victims. My last blog post on sexting covered the story of Philip Alpert who accepted his guilt but didn’t understand why his punishment was so severe. He insisted that what he did to his ex-girlfriend wasn’t traumatic, but rather simply embarrassing. While watching Dr. Phil’s episode, ‘Teens Obsessed with Love,’ which is part of his campaign to ‘End the Silence on Domestic Violence,’ I realized that this was a pattern among many abusive young men. The relationship featured on the show was of a young couple, Samantha and Aron. While Aron was being interviewed by Dr. Phil, he denied being abusive. Aron repeatedly said that he loved Samantha and wanted her back. He denied his stalking of Samantha, which was witnessed by Samantha’s mother and friends. Aron said that the two of them “would play around” but it wouldn’t hurt anyone.
These two situations raise a red flag on what’s in store for our future generation of adults if we don’t take actions to educate youth about healthy relationships. This was my first experience seeing an abuser being interviewed. I never thought that I would feel sorry for anyone that could be violent to another person, but I felt sorry for Aron. As I watched him, I didn’t see a violent person, I saw a young man in need of a lot of help. Dr. Phil offered Aron the opportunity to receive therapy after the show with the hope that he will recover and someday have a normal, healthy relationship with someone.
Aron agreed to leave Samantha alone, but Dr. Phil stressed that Samantha and her family need to be very careful and vigilant. He emphasized the Separation Assault phenomenon. Separation Assault is when the abuser realizes he has lost control and tries to get it back with violence. Research has shown that incidences of assault increase after the victim leaves the relationship.
Dr. Phil talked briefly about a few signs parents need to look out for in their teen’s relationships. The first sign is isolation; is your teen becoming reclusive? Is he/she not talking to anyone but their partner. The second thing is emotional extortion. The abuser threatens their victim emotionally, which usually plays out as: ‘if you don’t do this I’ll harm myself.’ Dr. Phil said that teens usually hide the abuse from parents because they are embarrassed and ashamed that this is happening to them. Because teens don’t seek out help, the problem can quickly escalate.
On his show Dr. Phil spoke about a few great campaigns. The first is a program called ‘Respect Works’ which is a part of his campaign to ‘End the Silence on Domestic Violence.’ He is partnering with Hazelton Pubilshers and Break the Cycle to incorporate a healthy relationship curriculum in 1000 schools across the U.S this fall. Another program, also by Break the Cycle, is called, ‘Let Your Heart Rule.’ In this program people will wear heart stickers on their arm to encourage talks on teen dating violence. The last program mentioned on the show was of a National PSA contest. Verizon and Break the Cycle are hosting a contest to encourage teens to produce an awareness PSA in their own ‘language,’ in order to create the greatest possible impact by their peers.
Dr. Phil’s partnership with the National Network Against Domestic Violence and commitment to domestic violence education has brought a great deal of attention to a topic that is often taboo. Talking about domestic violence on national television is an important step towards creating better outcomes for healthy relationships. Please watch Dr. Phil throughout this year while he brings more domestic violence issues to light.