As an educator for the past four years on teen dating violence through our Teen Voices, Teen Choices program, I have heard many stories and seen many instances of dating violence take their toll on young people. Even more saddening is the frustration and heartache of teens who watch their friends experience dating abuse but don’t know how they can help. The difficulty in this situation lies within our society and the media’s portrayal of intimate relationships. In addition to looking to their family and friends as role models in their quest for acceptance and forming a sense of self, young people also draw their role models from the media and pop culture. Unfortunately, the media does not always portray healthy relationships, making it difficult for today’s youth to understand what a healthy relationship means to them.
Recently, the tumultuous relationship between Chris Brown and Rihanna has garnered a great deal of media attention. It is important for youth to understand that Chris Brown and Rihanna are human beings and are not immune to domestic violence. It is also important for youth to realize that their relationship is not a healthy one. Even though they are celebrities, the violence that has occurred between them is not acceptable to anyone in any form.
Teens must recognize, that a relationship may start out wonderfully, but it can soon be filled with tension and the need to walk on eggshells around your partner. After this period of tension will come a violent or abusive act, followed by the abuser apologizing or making excuses for their behavior. An abuser may even try to place the blame on the victim, telling them “you asked for it” or “you made me angry.” These excuses can make the victim believe they were at fault, and the cycle can move right back to the feeling of tension, with the victim not wanting to do anything to provoke the abuser again. A difficult lesson for many is the fact that it is never the victim’s fault. The way someone dresses, who they hang out with, or any additional factor is never an excuse for violence. Violence is a behavior chosen by that person alone and that person alone should take responsibility for their actions. One must break this cycle of violence before it escalates or becomes life threatening.
If you or someone you know is caught in the cycle of violence, there are resources available to help. Please contact our Teen Voices, Teen Choices program or visit www.loveisrespect.org. You may also celebrate February Teen Dating Violence Awareness & Prevention Month with us on February 28th with free food and activities at Chapman University’s Wallace All Faiths Chapel. Hope to see you there!
-Susan Jaeckel is the Program Coordinator for the Prevention Center’s Teen Voices, Teen Choices Program.