Preventing Teen Dating Violence

The January-February 2018 Child Support Report originally featured this article by Christina Principe, Program Specialist, Family Violence Prevention and Services Program, Administration for Children and Families.


Collaborating Helped "Ruby" Break Out

Christina Principe

As a former domestic violence and sexual assault victim advocate at the local prosecutor’s office, I worked with a 15-year-old pregnant teen who I’ll call Ruby. Ruby’s mother was arrested for physically abusing her and her younger sister. Ruby ran away from home and moved in with her boyfriend and his family. After some time, he started to become very controlling. He limited the time she could spend away from him or anyone in his family. He also tried to sabotage her efforts to finish high school. Ruby wanted out so she could be free from the abuse. She also wanted to be financially able to care for herself and her baby in a safe home environment.

Ruby was involved with child welfare and connected with other appropriate and much needed supports. A pro-bono lawyer from a local Children’s Law Center represented the teen in her various cases, including her child support case. Ruby worked on a safety plan with her domestic violence peer support advocate, secured housing at a group home for pregnant and parenting teens, set up child care for her infant, and re-enrolled in high school. The collaborative efforts of the people providing Ruby’s services — the child support enforcement domestic violence specialist, maternity and parenting teens group home representative, domestic violence peer support advocate, and local teen dating violence program worker — led to great outcomes for Ruby and her child.

It is important for our child support, domestic violence, runaway and homeless youth, and adolescent pregnancy prevention programs to work collaboratively to end the many forms of violence that affect youth. With teamwork, we can decrease the challenges that these abused youth face, build on their strengths and resilience, and reduce factors that lead to future violence and decreased health and wellbeing.

The CDC's National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found that approximately 7% of women and 4% of men who ever experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner had their first experience with partner violence before they were 18 years old. The Understanding Teen Dating Violence 2016 Fact Sheet states “Dating violence can take place in person or electronically, such as repeated texting or posting sexual pictures of a partner online.”

Teen dating violence (TDV) is a type of intimate partner violence that occurs between two people in a close relationship. Antoinette Davis reported in 2008 that TDV affected nearly one in three girls in the United States. Data from the 2003 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance found 1 in 10 high school students reported being purposefully hit, slapped, or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend. To draw attention to this epidemic of violence, the U.S. designated February as Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

Deciding to end an abusive relationship can be very risky for a survivor. Domestic violence involves a pattern of controlling behaviors. When a survivor decides to take back that control, it is a direct threat to an abuser’s power. The period after a survivor leaves an abuser is the most dangerous because the violence often escalates, especially if there are children in common. Victims generally need financial resources when they want to leave, but safety is a priority. Enforcing child support orders may pose risks for domestic violence survivors and their children. Contacts with the abuser, such as court dates or visitation exchanges, become an opportunity for abuse.

There are resources available to child support caseworkers to help victims of domestic violence safely access child support.

LoveIsRespect.Org is a special project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline funded through the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act Program. The organization can connect teens with local domestic violence advocates for crisis counseling and referrals. It also offers a live chat option for teens. For information, call 866.331.9474 or text LOVEIS to 22522.

February 13, 2018

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