Love is not abuse
Dear 17-year-old me,
Yes, he is cute. Yes, he is smart. Yes, he is sweet and attentive. Yes, you have had a crush on him for a long time. And yes, you think you can help him. But, NO – it isn’t your job to save him. No, it is not a good thing that he is isolating you from your friends and family. No, it’s not okay that he is trying to coerce you into having sex. No, it’s not right that he demands to know where you are every minute and no, it’s not right when he yells at you for being with your friends. No, it’s not ok that he belittles you and blames you for his angry outbursts. And NO- it is not love when he strangles you. Yes, he says he loves you, but NO, this is NOT love. This relationship will totally change the course of your life. Unfortunately, years after the relationship ends, you will still be dealing with the trauma you have endured. BUT – you are not alone. Reach out to others and talk to them. There are people out there who can help you. You don’t need to carry this burden on your own. With others help, you will get through this. You will find love, real love, not abuse. And remember, it isn’t your fault that this happened to you.
This adolescent is not alone; 1 in 3 teens will experience dating violence. Unfortunately, 2 out of 3 will never tell a caring adult about that abuse. Dating violence is a pattern of behavior involving the use or attempted use of physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, economic, technological or other abusive behavior by a person to harm, threaten, intimidate, harass, coerce, control, isolate, restrain or monitor another person with whom they have or have had a social relationship that involves a physical, sexual, or emotional component.
Unfortunately, most community leaders, parents, teachers, school personnel, healthcare providers, and other important youth service providers are unaware of the scope of the problem, and therefore, many young people are unaware that dating abuse is wrong and should not be tolerated. However, if we provide young people with education about healthy relationship skills and attitudes, we can prevent dating violence.
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month and the following are some important facts about this quiet epidemic.
- The abuse is never the victim’s fault. It may be tempting to focus on what the victim could have done to avoid abuse BUT it is important to remember that nothing a victim does invites or excuses abuse. There are many reasons a person stays in an abusive relationship. Liking the abuse is not one of them.
- Telling someone to “just leave” the relationship is not the answer. There are many reasons why teens and 20-somethings stay in unhealthy relationships. For one, breaking up can be the most violent time in an abusive relationship. Without understanding the obstacles a young person may face and helping him or her through a safe separation, the situation usually gets worse, not better.
- Take relationships among youth seriously. Even if a person is young, his or her relationship still matters. By assuming teen relationships are just “puppy love,” adults risk overlooking the seriousness of dating violence. Abuse among youth can be just as destructive as among adults, if not more so. Dating abuse can lead to unwanted pregnancy, eating disorders and even suicide.
- Dating violence happens in every type of relationship, in every community. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, male or female, gay or straight, confident or shy. Anyone can become part of an unhealthy relationship and no one has a predisposition to becoming a victim of abuse.
- Dating violence isn’t just physical. Emotional and sexual violence can be just as, if not more, devastating to a young person’s health than physical violence.
- Do not advise teens to fight back. When a victim violently lashes out against his or her abuser, the violence often escalates. The abuser may even take that moment to “prove” the violence is mutual and, sometimes, to press charges. Moreover, fighting back does not end the violence. It is much more effective to seek legal help or make a safety plan.
- There’s never a point where you should “cut off” a friend who is being abused. Part of an abuser’s tactics is to isolate his or her victim. Without a supportive community, the victim finds it harder to leave the unhealthy relationship. Being a good friend, listening and supporting the victim’s decisions are the best ways to show him or her that there are alternatives to the abusive relationship.
If you or someone you know is in an unhealthy relationship and needs support, please contact the Riverview Center – in Carroll County, Illinois call 815-244-1320; in Jo Daviess County, Illinois call 815-777-3680. Visit www.loveisrespect.org for more information.
And remember, Love is NOT Abuse.