Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Social Responsibility

February 2011 has been a great month for teen dating violence awareness. I am so glad to see more television programs, whether  talk shows or regular entertainment, have addressed the issue of abuse in some way. I’ll admit, a little shamefully, that I watch Desperate Housewives. I guess you can say I watch it out of habit more than anything being that the show usually has unimportant storylines, meant for pure entertainment value. However, this week’s episode sent chills down my spine.

Gabrielle Solis, a housewife who had left a modeling career behind seeks therapy for the abuse she had suffered as a child. Her therapist advises her to confront her abuser who is now dead by going to his grave. When Gabrielle goes to her hometown she finds that her anger is directed towards another person who wasn’t her abuser. She confronts a teacher, who is also a nun, about her past. As a child, Gabrielle had confided in this teacher and told her about the abuse she suffered. The teacher had told her that she had a wild imagination and hadn’t done anything about it. Gabrielle ends the conversation by saying, ‘Shame on you, because you were the adult.’ Gabrielle believed that as an adult it was the teacher’s responsibility to stop the abuse, but she didn’t live up to her responsibility. 

This episode made me think about our responsibilities as adults and community members. What do we do to help children who are in abusive relationships? Are we propagating a culture of abuse for the next generation? In the talk show, ‘The Talk,’ Dr. Phil said that one of the reasons we are facing high numbers of teen dating violence is that children today are exposed to more violence and sex on TV. Yes, some of the responsibility of this lies in the parents, but how much of it is our fault on the whole? Do we take responsibility for what we are doing? 

An article I was reading a few months ago made me think the same way. The article informed readers that Disney’s ‘Tangled’ was the last princess movie for the company. The reason was that girls over the age of 8 are no longer interested in princesses, rather more interested in acting like teenagers. The article didn’t explicitly say it, but I’m assuming the next Disney movies will be geared towards the changing attitude of children. Girls are acting and dressing more grown up. When they act and dress older, all future experiences in their lives are sped up.  They enter the dating scene sooner and by default, their exposure to abusive relationships starts sooner.  

Not having any control over media content, our responsibility comes down to two things; vigilance, and education. We have to observe the young people we are around,  be mindful of any warning signs of violence, and educate them. We have to talk about violence and make sure they know we are responsible for their safety and will not dismiss their concerns. How adults react to children and their abuse can affect their entire lives so we have to act now, when data is just starting to rise on tween and teen dating violence, to end the culture of abuse from gaining momentum.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Straight Talk with Teens

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.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


At age 19 Philip Alpert registered as a sex offender. A year earlier he was arrested and charged with transmitting child pornography. When he broke up with his 16 year old girlfriend, he mass texted a nude picture of her to a network of 70 people including the girl’s parents. After being charged with the crime of transmitting child pornography, Alpert is sorry for what he did, however, he stated: “I didn’t cause trauma to her. I didn’t ruin her life. I embarrassed her.”

Though many people consider the charge of transmitting child pornography a harsh punishment for teenage sexting, arguing that the child had willingly taken the picture, Alpert’s comment suggests that he is still unaware of the depths of the consequences of his actions. A similar situation took place in Cincinnati, OH around the same time as Alpert’s offense. Jesse Logan’s boyfriend sent a nude picture of her to her high school peers upon their break up. Jesse was viciously teased. She tried to overcome this incident but eventually committed suicide.

Jesse’s suicide is haunting. It tells us that sexting, whether intentional or unintentional can have traumatic effects. What can start off as a seemingly harmless exchange between two people can turn into something with life-altering consequences.. The fact that an offender of this crime admits guilt but makes light of the situation is a sign that awareness and education is much needed on this subject.

A survey done by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and www.cosmogirl.com reported that ‘1 in 5 teens — and one-third of 20-somethings — have electronically sent or posted online nude or semi-nude pictures or videos of themselves.’ The report also concludes that “40% of teens and 60 percent of young adults — are “sexting,” sending raunchy messages via text, e-mail or instant message to each other.” These numbers are disturbing especially since data on such crimes is usually underreported due to fears of embarrassment by victims. In most cases, adults of authority like parents and teachers are not aware of the situation. Jesse Logan’s mother says that she only knew “bits and pieces, until the very last semester” when the school notified her of her daughter’s poor attendance. Would the consequences be different if Jesse’s mother had been aware of the situation from the beginning? No one can answer that question definitively. However, chances are that the consequences may have been different if all three parties involved; the bullies, the texter, and the victim, were counseled by specialists on the matter and Jesse had been taken out of the torturous environment.

With 40% of teens and 60% of young adults abusing each other via texts, technology is becoming the catalyst for a growing epidemic. The only way to deal with this is with prevention. Jesse’s story and those like hers need to be told again and again so teens and young adults are aware of their action’s possible consequences. A law also needs to be made solely addressing this issue so the problem is seen as a serious crime and not a teenage act of testing boundaries. Another effective way of reaching the target group would be to include sexting, teen dating abuse, and domestic violence in school curriculum along with sex education. Since this crime is new, adults along with teens need to be educated of the severity of such crimes.

Unfortunately, sexting cannot be prevented just by taking away a teen’s cell phone. Pictures can be sent via the web and can land on social networking sites like Facebook, forever scarring the victim. The first step towards prevention is making teens aware that such pictures should never be taken or exchanged, even in trusted relationships.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Get the Facts on Teen Dating Violence

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Do you know the facts?
  • Teen victims of physical dating violence are more likely than their non-abused peers to smoke, use drugs, engage in unhealthy diet behaviors (taking diet pills or laxatives and vomiting to lose weight), engage in risky sexual behaviors, and attempt or consider suicide.  
  • Approximately one in three adolescent girls in the United States is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner – a figure that far exceeds victimization rates for other types of violence affecting youth.  
  • One in five tweens – age 11 to 14 – say their friends are victims of dating violence and nearly half who are in relationships know friends who are verbally abused. 
  • Two in five of the youngest tweens, ages 11 and 12, report that their friends are victims of verbal abuse in relationships.
  • Only 33% of teens who were in an abusive relationship ever told anyone about it.
  • Nationwide, nearly one in ten high-school students (8.9 percent) has been hit, slapped or physically hurt on purpose by a boyfriend or girlfriend.
  • One in four teen girls in a relationship (26 percent) says she has been threatened with violence or experienced verbal abuse, and 13 percent say they were physically hurt or hit.
  • One in four teens in a relationship say they have been called names, harassed or put down by their partner through cellphones and texting.
  • One in five teen girls and one in ten younger teen girls (13 to 16) have electronically sent or posted nude or semi-nude photos or videos of themselves. Even more teen girls, 37 percent, have sent or posted sexually suggestive text, email or IM (instant messages).
  • In a 2009 survey of parents, three in four parents say they have had a conversation with their teen about what it means to be in a healthy relationship – but 74 percent of sons and 66 percent of daughters said they have not had a conversation about dating abuse with a parent in the past year.   

Teen dating violence is a growing issue with long term consequences. It is important for parents and teachers to address this issue before it becomes a problem in their teen’s life. Take the time to talk to the teens in your life about this issue!