February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and bringing the issues that often remain in the dark into the light provides the opportunity to stop cycles of harm. Citizen Potawatomi Nation House of Hope Prevention Specialist Kayla Woody believes education is the best tool.
“We as a society have normalized it,” she said. “We have got to get the information out there to our communities. We’ve got to get it out there to our parents, to our teens, our teachers, youth pastors and community leaders so they can start showing our children what healthy relationships look like.”
Woody teaches and reminds people, including youth, that not all abuse is physical.
“We see a lot of physical violence in teen dating relationships, but we also see emotional violence,” she said. “We see a lot of manipulation. As far as financial violence, (perpetrators are) telling (the victims) what they can do, what they can buy, where they can go eat at, who they can hang out with. There is such a wide variety when it comes to abuse, even with teens.”
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1.5 million high school students nationwide reported physical violence in their relationship in the past 12 months. Women ages 16 to 24 have the highest rate of intimate partner violence in the United States, according to Woody.
“Those are really those crucial ages where it’s beginning to start, around 16 years old, so we really want to try to focus on the teens, teaching them about healthy relationships, showing them those red flags. Showing them those green flags as well,” she said.
Providing examples of healthy relationships and having educational conversations about dating at an early age prepares youths for a partner and to spot problematic behavior.
“They don’t really know what to expect if they are not sat down with a trusted adult, like a parent or guardian, who is explaining that to them,” Woody said. “They’re just kind of having to figure it out on their own. So, when they get into a heavy relationship, and they have a partner telling them, ‘Oh, it’s OK to do this, it’s OK to do that,’ and they don’t know any better.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 11 female and 1 in 15 male high school students reported experiencing physical dating violence in the last year, possibly leading to depression, anxiety and other unhealthy behaviors. Without education, physical and emotional abuse can span generations.
“It continues because young people are brought up in these abusive homes. They tend to see this abuse as normalized. So when they start dating at a young age, they tend to think that physical violence, emotional violence, sexual violence, is what is normal,” she said.
CPN’s House of Hope domestic violence program works to start a new cycle of healthy relationships and positivity for teens by holding events with the Community Renewal of Pottawatomie County. The programs focus on how to spot warning signs and good traits, successfully and safely end a relationship as well as approach a friend or loved one who is in a bad relationship.
“It’s hard to leave that relationship when it started off so well, and it went so well for so long, and then it just slowly turned bad,” Woody said. “I kind of look at it as a frog in hot water. If you turn the heat on slowly, the frog will stay there.”
Some of the “red flags” the HOH focuses on include control, manipulation, physical harm, cheating, a short temper and constant contact to the point of stalking. “Green flags” include open dialogue about feelings, respect of both bodily autonomy and opinions, trust and equality.
“We want to catch those kids when they’re young, teach them those skills, those signs so that the cycle really stops with them,” Woody said.
LoveIsRespect.org is a project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline aimed at ages 13 to 26. It offers a safety hotline and online chat platform to talk with advocates. StrongHearts Native Helpline is a confidential, easy-to-use resource on the web at strongheartshelpline.org and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @strongheartsdv.