Letter to the Editor on DVAM

Below is an editorial that ran in the Gainesville Sun last week. We must admit, the headline was subpar, but the content made it through with minimal edits (which is way awesome!). Take a look. Send it to a friend.

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Two years ago, I found out that one of my best friends was raped at the hands of her dating partner. At the time, she was 16 years old. He held her down in the backseat of his car and ignored her when she said to stop. She eventually gave up her verbal protests and lay crying while he had his way. Shauna then went home, crawled behind the clothes in her closet and wept.

She never called it rape. In fact, she never talked about it with anyone until she told me when she was 22, engaged and a mother-to-be.

With the knowledge I have now, I can easily identify the warning signs of abuse that weren’t as obvious to me back then. I remember that one night we all went out to dinner and Shauna had to ask for his permission to come. He granted it, but when she didn’t call him quickly enough he showed up at the restaurant. He grabbed her arm through the car window and ignored her when she said he was hurting her. We all stood by and watched –shocked, but unsure of what to do.

And looking back, I felt –I still feel—guilty. I feel that as her best friend back then, I failed her. I knew her boyfriend. And I knew that something just wasn’t right. I simply didn’t have the knowledge or the language to verbalize exactly what was wrong.

When I was a teenager, no one talked to us and told us what a healthy relationship should look like. No one defined for us what abuse was —a pattern of coercive or controlling behaviors, including emotional, physical and sexual abuse—or told us what the warning signs were. And definitely no one offered information about what to do as a bystander or presented themselves as a supportive adult that we could talk to about dating violence.

The information simply was not available from the schools or from our families.

After all, in their eyes Shauna wasn’t an “at-risk” youth. She was the all-American, middle-class, high school girl. She was an honor society student who participated in student government, cheerleading, volunteer projects and was eventually crowned homecoming queen. If any of the adults in her life knew what was happening back then I imagine they would have been shocked that she would make a “bad choice” or that she would date a “bad boy.” I think, in that way, they would have found a way to blame her for the violence that her boyfriend inflicted upon her.

Unfortunately, that’s the mentality most people have. They say that it was the victim’s bad choice, or the victim must have done something to “cause” their dating partner to act violently toward them. And, of course, this type of violence doesn’t happen to “good kids” in “good families.”  But the reality is: it can happen to anyone regardless of age, race, class, religion, socio-economic background, or any other factor. It is NEVER the victim’s fault. Nothing Shauna could have said or done would have made it acceptable for her partner to hurt her, to hold her down and rape her.

In the United States, one in four adolescents reports verbal, physical, emotional, or sexual violence each year, and one in five high school girls has been physically or sexually abused by a dating partner, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Dating and domestic violence, often collectively referred to as intimate partner violence, has been dubbed a national public health issue by CDC. Yet most adults know little about this very real crisis.

The good news is: violence is a learned behavior. Therefore, it can be prevented.  CDC recognizes that by providing youth the tools to engage in healthy relationships, by training supportive adults on how to engage in these types of discussions and offer support, by involving the community in addressing social norms that condone the use of violence as a means of gaining power and resolving conflict, we can begin to make change!

Peaceful Paths offers research-based, multi-session youth programming to provide youth the skills to engage in healthy relationships before they are ever involved in an unhealthy relationship. We offer trainings to adults, including teachers, so they can incorporate activities and conversations into the work they do. And we are actively working with the community to begin to develop other solutions.

But to stem this pervasive violence, to begin to make some small impact, we need YOU. We need the entire community to support this effort, because it ultimately impacts us all.

There are simple things that each of us can do every day to be a part of the solution:

–          We can engage the youth we know in conversations about what healthy relationships look like.

–          We can make it known that violence is never acceptable and offer alternative behaviors.

–          We can be models of respect and equality for all.

–          We can stand up to people who make jokes about women “deserving what they get.”

All of these things are simple. But together, they can begin to add up to the type of social change that is required to ensure that your daughters, your sisters, your nieces, your friends never suffer violence at the hands of their intimate partners again. My friend Shauna and the countless amazing women who I know that have suffered from this type of violence inspire me to find a solution to ending this violence. Check yourself.  Who inspires you?

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