Helping Human Services Agencies Reach Teens During Domestic Violence Awareness Month

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Almost 10 percent of high school students have experienced physical dating violence in the past year. Approximately 1 in 5 young women has been in an abusive relationship.  The pattern is all too common among teens and young adults.  A young woman finds herself in a relationship with a boyfriend whose text messages increase in frequency, who begins to isolate her from her friends, and soon exhibits other controlling behaviors.  All too quickly the control becomes physical and many of these young women think they have no way out of an abusive situation. According to Teenage Research Unlimited, only 33 percent of teens in an abusive relationship ever tell anyone about the abuse, let alone seek help.

Tackling our country’s epidemic of dating violence – and ensuring that every young person in the country receives the help they need to prevent or escape dating violence and sexual assault – will take a concerted effort from families, schools, communities, policy makers and service providers.

That’s why this October, in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF) is recommitting itself to ensuring that every human service agency in the country has the capacity to prevent and intervene in dating violence and sexual assault.

We and our partners in violence prevention are using social media to encourage discussion among youth service providers about this pressing issue. Vice President Joseph Biden is spearheading the 1 is 2 Many Campaign, which solicits ideas for reducing teen dating violence and sexual assault at www.whitehouse.gov/1is2manyOn October 19, the National Domestic Violence Resource Center is holding a Twitter Town Hall to mark Domestic Violence Awareness Month. We invite youth service providers and teens to join the discussion at 3 p.m. (EDT) by following the hashtag #reachyouth.

Through our Division of Family Violence Prevention, we fund over 1,600 domestic violence shelters and 1,100 non-residential service sites devoted to stopping domestic violence and ensuring the social and emotional wellbeing of abuse victims. We also fund domestic violence coalitions in 56 states and territories. Visit  www.nnedv.org/resources/coalitions.html for a list. These coalitions can offer support to human services agencies wishing to respond to teen dating violence in their communities.

Human service providers that encounter young people who have been victims of abuse should encourage them to call the National Dating Abuse Helpline, 1-866-331-9474, seek online support at www.loveisrespect.org through the live chat feature or text ‘loveis’ directly to 77054 to begin a text chat with an advocate.  The ACYF Runaway and Homeless Youth Relationship Violence Toolkit at www.nrcdv.org/rhydvtoolkit is a detailed guide for addressing the specific dangers that face our country’s most vulnerable young people.

October is an essential time for all social workers and human service providers to learn more about teen relationship violence.  If we can recognize the telltale signs of teen dating violence when we see them, we can help young people take advantage of the many resources that exist to address it.

Bryan Samuels is the Commissioner of in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. To learn more about the ACYF’s Family and Youth Services Bureau, which sponsors outreach efforts to teens on a variety of issues, visit: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/fysb/.