When several teenagers are hanging together at a ballgame, the movies, in a classroom or at another event, one or more of them is likely involved an abusive dating relationship.
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, and Help-In-Crisis Prevention Coordinator Jyme Lowe said one in four teen girls and one in six boys experience an abusive dating relationship.
Lowe, who teaches classes on healthy dating relationships at Tahlequah High School, said it’s important not only for the teenagers to recognize the signs of potential abuse, but for parents to pay attention, as well.
“It’s so important to get parents to talk to their kids,” said Lowe. “I love having these classes, but the thing is, these kids are experiencing even more real situations that I had anticipated. There’s not a class that goes by when I don’t have at least one student come talk to me about [a potentially abusive] situation.”
Earlier this week, Lowe spoke to a health class at THS about how to recognize and help friends who are either being abusive in a dating relationship, or being abused.
“There are a lot of dynamics to unhealthy relationships,” said Lowe. “It’s really simple to stand back and say, ‘Why don’t you just leave,’ but it’s rarely that easy.”
Lowe read an anecdotal dating scenario to the teens, instructing them to listen to the story carefully. They were then asked to move from one side of the classroom to the other, depending on whether they would stay in such a relationship, or if they would break up with the abuser.
The story involved “José and Maria,” and was told from José’s point of view. According to the story, Maria was the most beautiful girl in school, but had an explosive temper. During varying stages of the story, students switched from staying to leaving to staying again.
Despite Maria’s violent temper, she explained to José that she came from an abusive family, and had little experience with healthy relationships. This revelation tipped the scale in the classroom, with many of the teens opting to stay, had they been José.
Lowe asked some of the students why they made their decisions.
Sophomore Ashli Anson spent most of the time on the “leave” side of the room, until Maria revealed she came from an abusive family.
“That last paragraph really got me,” said Ashli. “I know what it’s like to come from an abusive family.”
Another student, who elected to leave, said teens can’t let their families have such a profound effect on their lives.
He believes it’s important to break the cycle of abuse by making better decisions.
Junior Morgan Tarrance, who remained staunchly in the “leave” group, said you can’t always believe what an abusive person tells you.
“Maria may have been lying about her family’s abuse,” said Morgan. “She could have been manipulating Jose into staying with her.”
Lowe told the students nobody really chooses to stay in a violent or abusive relationship, but that’s often what happens.
“It’s very complicated,” said Lowe. “Sometimes they believe it’s their fault they’re being abused. Other times, they don’t have anyone to talk to about the abuse, and feel the abuser is the only person in their lives.”
Lowe gave the students a number of tools to help students who may have friends either abusing their significant other or are being abused.
“Some of the most important things to remember are to always believe your friend’s story if they tell you they’re being abused, and also let them know they don’t deserve it and that no one ‘asks for it,’” Lowe said.
She said it’s also important for teens to call out abusers, as the behavior won’t change if it’s ignored.
“You have to let them know their behavior is not OK,” said Lowe. “You can ask them questions like, ‘Why did that happen?” or ‘Do you believe you have the right to decide who [your girlfriend or boyfriend] has as friends?’ or ‘Can you find a respectful way to handle the situation?’”
Lowe told the students they shouldn’t have to make drastic changes to their personal lives once they’re in dating relationships, and that often, isolation from friends and family is the first sign of potential abuse.
“It’s healthy to have outside friends,” said Lowe. “Also, you can’t react to dating violence with violence. You can’t beat a guy up if he hits his girlfriend, because it just continues the cycle. You have to talk to them about it, and let them know you won’t stand for it.”
Teens seeking guidelines to avoid dating violence are encouraged to visit www.loveisrespect. org, a website dedicated to helping stop the cycle of abuse.