Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Columns

August 20, 2012

Teaching about domestic violence

ASHLAND — It’s always sunny at Disneyland. It’s my 40th birthday party. What could ruin this day?

Our fairytale begins.

In the shadow of Aurora’s Castle here’s a delightful princess; shiny black hair swept into a ponytail, around 17, my daughter’s age. Here’s her Prince Charming, handsome young man of around 20, dressed in a snow white tank top, an armor affectionately called a “wife beater.” Go figure.

The couple catches my eye – wishfully everyone’s eyes.

He lays into her, thrusts his finger into her nose, spat flying. A cowardly lion roaring about some teenage indiscretion she supposedly committed. Scared, she slumps onto the theme park pavement. Swear words, threats, pushing.

People walk by without a word. No one steps in. I scuttle to a nearby Magic Kingdom hand; beg him to help her, expecting security or police to sweep in on a white horse to save the frightened young woman. They don’t. Two burly guys tell them to just move on.

Almost two hours passes and my family visits another park area. Ah, the captivating couple again, this time she’s running to get away. He yanks her hair. In defense, she tries to shove her knight. He thrusts her to the ground. Insults, hands hurled into her sweet face, he attacks her dignity and berates her. She crumples.

In one magical moment, it’s too much to behold. I join two other adults, running to help the trodden maiden. One hero seems like a beefy Big Apple cop, with Brooklyn accent to match. He begs her to accept his help. She refuses through sobs.

“I am right here. I’m watching you,” he angrily points at the battering boy.

I don’t give up and kneel in front of her, implore into her tear-stained eyes:

“Please, let me help you. …Let’s call the police. …They will help. …Never let a man hurt you. …You don’t deserve this. …You’re beautiful.”

There it is. I hear these same words from lawman lips often. Wounded, she rarely listens — and returns to him.

I can’t get through. Stinking man garbage turns to me, a tale as old as time. Beauty and the beast.

“What? You want her to call the police?” he smirks. “She hits me!”

Again, I plead a Disney employee to help the battered teen. She looks at a pamphlet. There isn’t enough happening to intervene.

We ran into royal abuser later on. He’s alone; pacing, anguished, seems to search for her.

He asks a stranger to borrow a cell phone. I smile, thinking my words helped her make a sound choice. Perhaps she escaped his damned dominion.

No. She emerges from the crowd. They walk into the sunset, reunited, holding hands.

My little girl is still vexed, wondering about the safety of this besieged stranger.

It’s reason to open dialogue with your girls. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey and 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, adolescents and adults are often unaware how regularly dating violence occurs.

When polling adult victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking, 22.4 percent of women and 15 percent of men say they first experienced some form of partner violence between ages 11 and 17. About 10 percent of students report they were physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend in the past year.

Dating violence is a serious national problem, and many teens won’t report the crime.

At back-to-school time local schools should offer prevention programming to alter this damaging social norm. Adults who teach healthy relationship skills in preteen years can stop teen dating violence before it starts.

To learn more, log on to cdc.gov/violenceprevention/datingmatters. If you’re a victim, call the National Dating Abuse Helpline at 1-866-331-9474, or text 77054.

For parents and teachers to prevent teen dating violence there must be open forums. Tell sons and daughters what constitutes intimate partner violence. It occurs between two people in a close relationship. The nature of dating violence is physical, emotional, or sexual, warns the CDC, spelling it out:

Physical – occurs when a partner is pinched, hit, shoved, or kicked.

Emotional – threatening a partner or harming his sense of self-worth. Examples include name calling, shaming, bullying, embarrassing on purpose, or keeping him away from friends and family.

Sexual – forcing a partner to engage in a sex act without consent.

Stalking – a pattern of harassing or threatening tactics used by a perpetrator that’s both unwanted and causes fear in the victim.

Dating violence strikes in-person or electronically, like repeated texting or posting sexual pictures of a partner online.

Starts with teasing and name-calling – behaviors often thought to be a “normal” part of a relationship lead to more serious violence like physical assault and rape.

Has a negative effect on health throughout life. Teen victims are more likely to be depressed or perform poorly in school; engage in unhealthy behaviors, like using drugs and alcohol; are more prone to eating disorders, and often consider or attempt suicide. Teens who are victims in high school are at higher risk for victimization during college.

Unhealthy relationships start early and last a lifetime.

People who harm dating partners are more depressed and aggressive than peers.

Be aware of risk factors in your kid, red flags he could harm a dating partner. Look for:

Trauma symptoms

Alcohol use

Having a friend involved in dating violence

Problem behaviors in other areas

Belief that dating violence is acceptable

Exposure to harsh parenting or inconsistent discipline, or lack of parental supervision, monitoring, and warmth

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