Teen dating violence affects millions of young people in this country every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), teen dating violence can include physical violence, sexual violence, psychological aggression, and stalking. This form of intimate partner violence can be perpetrated in person, by technology, or online. The pernicious effects of dating violence can have a lifelong impact on the victim’s health, self-esteem, and ability to form healthy relationships. College administrators and staff have to understand some victims of teen dating violence may bring the trauma of the experience with them to college.
Attitudes on appropriate dating and interpersonal relationships are formed early. A 2009 study of sixth graders found that 25 percent believed it was acceptable for a boyfriend to hit his girlfriend. This sobering statistic suggests we must change the narrative and correct this dangerous and destructive way of thinking before young people become hard-wired to believe teen dating violence is acceptable.
There are countless studies on the adolescent brain and how young people process information and social dynamics. According to Liz Claiborne, Inc.’s College Dating Violence and Abuse Poll (2011), 70 percent of respondents who experienced teen dating violence viewed their relationships as healthy when they were in them.
Black Female Students Need Additional Supports to Deal with Dating Violence
February marks both Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month and Black History Month, and sadly, Black girls are 60 percent more likely than white females to be victims of sexual assault before the age of 18.
Fortunately, young Black women victimized by dating and partner violence have an ally in Black sororities. The women of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, Zeta Phi Beta, and Sigma Gamma Rho are joining forces to advocate for victims of partner violence.
For many African American college students, Greek life is an important part of the college experience. The “Divine Nine” as the four sororities and five fraternities are known, were founded on mostly HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) to provide a sense of community for Black students prohibited from joining other Greek organizations because of their race. In the early 1900s, Black students were often isolated and segregated from white students on campus. Alienated from campus life, these students came together to form a community and a safe space for learning and culture.
Largely regarded as a means of bonding and social gathering for Black college students, Black Greek organizations have made a significant impact on the historical social and political issues of the day. They were a stalwart in the fight for women’s right to vote in the early 20th century and a major force in the civil rights movement, where their advocacy and activism continue as proponents of the modern struggle for civil rights, and in their commitment to seeing that Black women and girls are physically safe, and their voices are heard.
Black sororities are raising their voices, pooling their talent, and using their finances to bring awareness and support to African American women and girls who experience partner violence at 35 percent higher than white women. These activist sororities are exposing the disparities in the attention or lack thereof to the mental health and safety of African American women and girls. And they are committing to bringing help and hope to their ‘sisters’ on campus and in the community.
How Campuses Should Respond to Teen Dating Violence
Institutions of higher learning must be vigilant and establish processes to prevent intimate partner violence, but if these incidents occur, they must respond reflexively with comprehensive services that support these students. Title IX, a federal law, is a powerful tool for colleges to support victims of dating violence and intimate partner crime and discipline offenders. Under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, any educational institution that receives federal dollars must protect students by providing a safe environment free from bias, violence, and harassment. Title IX coordinators on college campuses play a critical role in coordinating the resources to support victims of dating violence.
According to the article, Exploring Equity Issues- Educators as Bystanders; Recognizing and Responding to Teen Dating Violence, “dating abuse may seem like a social issue, but it has the power to reshape educational attainment and life outcomes for students who experience it.”
In order for support staff on college campuses to help young people engaged in or experiencing dating violence, they have to recognize the signs of current or former trauma:
- Is one partner more enthusiastic than the other in public displays of affection?
- Does the student still participate in extracurricular activities?
- Is the student still engaging with friends?
Campuses can support students experiencing dating violence by:
- using neutral language,
- having a clear, unequivocal teen dating violence policy in place,
- displaying prominent signage of contact numbers of campus officials in charge of student safety or student equity, and
- establishing a relationship with sexual assault prevention organizations for support and resources.
authored by Sandra Grady, Fahrenheit Creative Group