Rationale

Violence occurs in one out of four families in the United States. Young people are confronted with the threat and the stark reality of violence in their schools, on their streets, and all too often, in their homes. Violence is a manifestation of other, equally disturbing problems among children, youth and families, among them, the increasing number of out-of-wedlock and teen births.

The secrecy, shame and stigma often associated with victimization make it difficult to identify individuals imminently at risk and provide the necessary support, counseling, education and referral. This underscores the need to address these issues in a direct and practical manner for all young people. Programs and services should convey that violence and victimization are not acceptable or permissible and promote personal skill development in refusal, coping and assertiveness. Young women need to feel confident in their ability to both resolve conflicts and to protect themselves.

Parent education and family support programs offer services in local communities that strengthen families to help parents better nuture and support their children, and prevent family violence, substance abuse and teen pregnancy. A range of violence prevention plans-in schools, on the streets to and from school, in individual neighborhoods-are necessary to protect children and youth. Positive youth activities after school, on weekends and during the summer provide safe, structured alternatives to the streets, and to a variety of risk-associated behaviors.

Violence prevention efforts must be the work of the total community-education, health, business, human services, clergy. If the community does not value, protect, care for and include its children, neglect and alienation may drive them to seek out acceptance and affiliation in counterproductive ways, such as joining gangs, initiating sexual behavior at an early age, or even becoming sexually promiscuous.

Domestic Violence

The primary cause of injury to women is partner battery. In the United States, a woman is beaten by her husband or boyfriend every 18 seconds. One in four teenage girls becomes involved in a physically or sexually abusive relationship. The best prevention is education, promoting recognition of the stages in the "cycle of violence" -honeymoon to tension to explosion.

Physical Abuse

Many pregnant teenagers have histories of physical abuse. Studies have shown that children who have been physically assaulted are at higher risk of developing aggressive behavior. As parents, people with a history of maltreatment are six times more likely than the general population to abuse their own children- a manifestation of the generational "cycle of violence." Educating teens offers hope for those in abusive families that they can "break the cycle."

 

 

Dating Violence

Very often, young people in dating relationships demonstrate controlling and manipulative behaviors. This may indicate serious and potentially dangerous problems for both young people in the relationship. At the least, their academic progress and success in school will be compromised. At the worst, the situation could be lethal.

Almost 60 percent of students involved in dating violence come from violent families. Stress, alcohol and other drug abuse, social and age inequality between teen partners, dating frequency, low family incomes and poor interpersonal communication skills are other risk factors identified in abusive relationships. Nonconsensual sexual intercourse between people who are acquainted with each other or are dating is the most common type of rape, accounting for 70 to 80 percent of rape crisis center contacts. Acquaintance rape involves the use of physical force, emotional bargaining, blackmail or mind games to force sexual intercourse.

Sexual Abuse

Approximately one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually assaulted before the age of 18. Studies of pregnant adolescents indicate an even higher rate of sexual victimization with as many as half to two-thirds reporting sexual abuse histories. Sexual abuse survivors are more likely to participate in activities that increase their risk of unintended pregnancy. Not surprisingly, they often begin voluntary sexual relationships earlier and have sex more often. Thus, they are more likely to become pregnant before age 18 than are their non-abused peers.

Some teens intentionally become pregnant to escape abuse. Pregnant teens are often described as having low self-efficacy and self-esteem, as well as feelings of powerlessness and alienation. These risk factors overlap with those for child sexual abuse, as well as other forms of victimization. It seems that sexual victimization eradicates the very skills needed to make appropriate decisions and take action to prevent negative sexual outcomes. This is an important consideration in planning programs and services for the teenage population.

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Katie Stauffer
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