Abuse Isn't Love
As a Safe Horizon peer leader at her high school, Joanna, 15, knows that many of her fellow teens are victims of relationship abuse- whether they know it or not. They're insulted, threatened and humiliated by their dating partners. They're slapped, forced to have sex and isolated from friends and family. This abuse is kept secret because much of it happens through technology-text messaging, cellphones or social networks like MySpace. Joanna's peers aren't alone.
Here in New York City, advocates at Safe Horizon, the nation's leading provider of services to victims of crime and abuse, answered nearly 10,000 calls for help from teens last year. The latest research commissioned by Liz Claiborne, found that one in three teens in a relationship report being text messaged up to 30 times an hour by a partner to find out where they are, who they're with and what they're doing. One in 10 teens has been physically threatened by a partner through e-mail, texting, Web chats and phone calls. One in five teens said they've had a partner hit, slap or push them.
"Girls in my school are always telling me that they thought their relationship was perfect, until their boyfriends started telling them what to do and getting mad when they wanted to hang out with their friends," says Joanna, who is one of 80 peer leaders who co-facilitate workshops with Safe Horizon experts for their fellow students on how to avoid abuse and create healthy relationships. "I help these girls understand that extreme jealousy and possessiveness are danger signs."
Teen relationship abuse is a pattern of behaviors that an abuser uses to gain complete control over a dating partner, ranging from telling a partner she's worthless to choking or burning her. Unfortunately many teens think this behavior- which can be deadly-is normal. "Many teens think that their partner's obsessive behavior is romantic, but it's dangerous and unhealthy. This type of control often leads to physical abuse. We need to expose the hidden signs earlier before the violence escalates to that level," says Bea Hanson, Safe Horizon's chief program officer. "All teens deserve respectful relationships."
To get help for themselves or their friends 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in any language, teens can call Safe Horizon advocates at 1-800-621-4673 or visit safehorizon. org. They can also receive violence prevention education and counseling at Safe Horizon's school programs, where staff reached over 12,000 students and adults last year.
To connect with teens and adults who can help them, Safe Horizon is launching a new public awareness campaign to reveal the hidden signs of teen relationship abuse. Groundbreaking in its breadth, the campaign involves innovative outreach strategies, including Safe Horizon's teen peer leaders staging guerilla marketing events to distribute educational materials in four languages- English, Spanish, Haitian Creole and Chinese. Blanketing New York City schools, hospitals and police precincts in underserved neighborhoods, and subways, busses and phone kiosks, the campaign extends nationwide through print media and Web sites, including an Experts' Corner on "America's Most Wanted".
The campaign is funded in part by Councilmember Helen Sears and the New York City Council. "An abuser verbally, emotionally and physically breaks down a teen dating partner's defenses until she thinks the abuse is her fault. We need to teach teens that they deserve healthy relationships," says Councilmember Sears, a Queens mother of three and grandmother of four. "I urge all teens to go to safehorizon.org, read the warning signs and call 800-621-HOPE if they or their friends are in danger."
Eric Katzman For Safe Horizon
New York, N.Y.