The beginning of February marks the beginning of Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. Although most college students are not technically teenagers anymore, the month is set aside to discuss and acknowledge the specific challenges younger people face in their relationships.
Domestic Violence Awareness Month is celebrated in October, but in 2006 the national government recognized the first week in February as dedicated specifically to teen dating violence, and in 2010 the week was officially extended into an entire month in order to give attention to all of the different issues encompassed within teen dating violence.
Around 1.5 million high schoolers per year face physically abusive relationships, and one in three adolescents faces “physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse” from a partner. These kinds of statistics extend into the college demographic: Nearly half of college-aged women experience some form of intimate partner violence, and 58 percent of college students say they don’t know how to deal with it when it occurs.
Although these statistics largely refer to women, it is a stereotype that only women can be victims.
“While we know something about the statistics that women and gender nonconforming folks are more likely to be the targets of violence that doesn’t meant that they’re the exclusive targets of violence,” Women’s Center Director Kathleen Holgerson said.
Jenn Longa, assistant dean of students for victim support services and bystander initiatives, also expressed that students assume intimate partner violence is strictly physical when in fact mental and emotional abuse is a real threat as well.
Intersectionality adds another important layer to discussions of intimate partner violence. For example, some reports say the LGBTQ+ community faces dating violence at higher rates.
“I think it’s hard to talk about IPV without talking about gender, without talking about race,” Holgerson said.
Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month is dedicated to recognizing the multilayered issues surrounding dating violence and opening up dialogues to look for solutions. The most important ways to start turning things around are education, advocacy, policy and support, according to Holgerson.
Education is necessary in order to change the way intimate partner violence is viewed by society, and to introduce what a healthy relationship should look like.
“There’s so many behaviors that are normalized about how women get treated, how men are supposed to act, how folks who are gender nonconforming are encouraged to sort of get in a box,” Holgerson said. “When we turn whatever age, the guide about how to have healthy relationships does not fall out of the sky.”
On the other end of things, once intimate partner violence has occurred, making sure victims and survivors have a safe way to process what they’ve been through is important. According to Holgerson, the Women’s Center will soon be hosting a discussion group for survivors.
“We’ve been hearing that they just want some space to be able to talk about being a survivor with other survivors” Holgerson said.
Ultimately, if you run into intimate partner violence, the most important thing to do is communicate. If you find yourself in an unhealthy relationship, reaching out to somebody you feel comfortable with is the most important first step, whether that’s Longa in the dean’s office, or your RA. If you ever find out that a friend is experiencing dating violence, tell them it isn’t their fault.
The University of Connecticut has a number of resources, both confidential and nonconfidential that can be reached including Counseling and Mental Health Services, Student Health Services, the Dean of Students Office and the Women’s Center.
“We are not here to tell people what to do,” Longa said. “We are here to help support them.”
Alex Houdeshell is a campus correspondent/staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.