Saturday, January 25, 2003
As most of you may have noticed by the heart decorations and candy-filled displays sprouting up everywhere, Valentine's day is rapidly approaching. You can't enter a store without encountering images of hearts and flowers. Love is in the air.
While Valentine's Day for many couples is filled with romance, affection and passion, for others it is filled with anxiety, fear and violence. This is particularly true for teen-agers with limited dating experience and knowledge of the elements constituting a healthy relationship. Dating violence includes any form of sexual assault, physical violence and verbal or emotional abuse.
Teen dating violence has immense health impications for our youth. Studies show that teen-age girls are three times more vulnerable to intimate partner violence than any other age group in our nation. One in five adolescent girls in this country will be physically and/or sexually abused in a dating relationship according to a recent Harvard study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA, August 2001).
In spite of increased awareness, domestic violence persists in many relationships and the impact on other members of the family, including the children witnessing the violence, is devastating, I have lost two children and know firsthand the pain a parent or loved one suffers when a intimate partner relationship regardless of age turns violent.
My only son died during a domestic dispute with his girlfriend over visitation with his two children, and my oldest daughter died from childbirth complications 10 days after being beaten by her husband, who then played defensive back for the Indianapolis Colts.
I lay awake nights wondering if my getting involved earlier might have been the difference between life and death.
Domestic violence is a brutal crime that can be prevented if we join hands to educate our youth to recognize the signs of an abusive relationship and the elements that make up a healthy relationship.
Yes, it is difficult. Maybe you feel it is not your business or you don't know what to do to help. Perhaps you fear retaliation. Put yourself in the shoes of those who are experiencing violence in their lives. How do you think they feel?
We can break the cycle of domestic violence that is destroying our families, devastasting our communities and adding to an already overcrowded jail and prison population. It begins with making a personal commitment to get involved.
Learn and talk honestly and openly with your sons and daughters about the signs of abuse, appropriate ways of dealing with emotions in dating relationships and resources that are available in your area.
Topping the list of things you can do to break the cycle of violence includes:
n Giving generously to local organizations providing prevention and intervention services to victims;
n Volunteering time to mentor young men and women wrestling with peer preasure and teetering on the brink of self-destruction; and
n Modifying your own behavior to model the elements that make for healthy intimate relationships.
Last year during a television appearance in Detroit, my co-panelist, a 12-year-old girl, coined the phrase "Hands are for holding, not hitting." Remember that this year on Valentine's Day.
Remember also that relationships aren't always as simple as chocolates and roses, but nothing justifies abuse. Offer your support to your teen. It's one of the most loving gifts you can give this Valentine's Day.
Michael F. Craig is Founder of Heart of the Family, a nonprofit organization committed to empowering abused women and children. He can be reached at email@example.com.