By Evelyn Kappeler, Director, Office of Adolescent Health; Marylouise Kelley, PhD., Director, Family Violence Prevention and Services Program, Family & Youth Services Bureau; and Resa Matthew, PhD., Director, Division of Adolescent Development and Support, Family & Youth Services Bureau
As this year’s Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month comes to a close, we want to take a moment to share some ways the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is dedicated to promoting healthy and safe outcomes for adolescents and teens. Throughout the year, the Office of Adolescent Health (OAH), and the Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB), work to prevent all types of teen dating violence, support young survivors, and encourage adolescents and teens to build healthy relationship skills. OAH is dedicated to improving the health and well-being of adolescents to enable them to become healthy, productive adults. Complementing this work, FYSB is committed to promoting safety, stability and well-being for people who have experienced or been exposed to violence, neglect or trauma, including youth.
When declaring February National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, President Obama noted that one in 10 American teenagers suffers physical violence at the hands of a boyfriend or girlfriend each year; many others are sexually or emotionally abused. This abuse, also known as dating violence, can have long-term health impacts; an extensive body of research reveals that victims often suffer lifelong health consequences, such as emotional trauma, lasting physical impairment, chronic health problems, and even death.i New research may also suggest that the prevalence of teen dating violence is even higher than reported. Last July, a survey by the American Psychological Association revealed that one in three American teens say they have been physically, emotionally or sexually abused in dating relationships; this is nearly comparable to the national prevalence of intimate partner violence among adult women. According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, conducted each year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one in three women, or 36 percent, have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
From the CDC and other experts, we know that a history of prior abuse is one of the greatest risk factors for an individual to become either a future victim or perpetrator of interpersonal violence.ii That is why the work across HHS to prevent and respond to teen dating violence is so critical: what we do today to build resiliency among adolescents who have already experienced abuse, and how we teach teens healthy relationship skills, will significantly minimize their exposure to violence as they enter adulthood. The high extent to which young people in communities across our country are experiencing abuse is a call to action. Here are some of the ways in which OAH and FYSB are responding to the call:
Relationship abuse often leads to, and can intensify with, unintended pregnanciesiii, particularly for teens. That is why OAH and FYSB have a number of initiatives to prevent teen pregnancy, support pregnant teens and young parents, and teach healthy relationship skills to prevent dating violence among young and expectant parents:
As the directors of the Office of Adolescent Health, FYSB’s Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program and the Family Violence Prevention and Services Program, we are continually working to promote the health, safety and well-being of young people in communities across the United States. Too many teens experience dating violence, but may be too afraid to talk about it. Through our combined efforts, and those of our grantees, we are hopeful that more youth will feel safe to disclose, and that all young people are empowered with the knowledge that their relationships affect their health.
Follow the Office of Adolescent Health on Twitter with @TeenHealthGov, and follow the Administration for Children and Families, home to FYSB, with @ACFHHS.
iiiSilverman JG, Raj A, Clements K. “Dating violence and associated sexual risk and pregnancy among U.S. adolescent girls.” American Journal of Pediatrics, 2004.