**Note: I recently sorted through some old blog posts that I either never posted, or that were posted on an old blog. So I will be adding a few here just to have them all in one place. Enjoy!***
July 21, 2012: Over the last several months, I have become increasingly interested in understanding how to prevent domestic violence, and teen dating violence in particular. I actually interviewed with a domestic violence organization for a position that dealt specifically with implementing prevention programs in the area–one with a group of young men at a local high school, and one with a fraternity at the local university. I was really enthusiastic about the prevention program, knowing that many unhealthy relationship patterns are learned at home, thus we cannot always assume that parents will set good relationship examples for their kids.
While looking into this position, I started researching domestic violence education programs in middle and high schools in the US. There are several states that currently require schools to include teen dating violence in their family life education/health curricula. I was happy to see that some states require teen dating violence education, but at the same time the state laws may only require it to be taught a few times over several years. Not to mention that as of 2011 there were only 17 states with such laws, with 8 more states that introduced legislation in 2012 (4 of which failed to pass). So while there has definitely been more efforts made in preventing teen dating violence, I’m a little skeptical of how much of an impact education in schools can actually have.
What also makes me skeptical is if it will be able to get through to abusers or potential abusers (as opposed to getting potential victims to understand signs of an abusive relationship). I started thinking about this based on my recent experience working in a pre-K summer school class. In this class we had one student who was already showing warning signs of being a potential abuser: trying to boss around his “girlfriend” in the class, becoming violent with students who rejected his hugs, and making comments on older girls’ appearances as they walked by in the hall. The school administration kept a close eye on him throughout the summer session, and was also in touch with his mother about his behavior issues. They tried to come up with a plan to keep him and the other students safe, which included having a teacher spending time with him one-on-one for part of the morning. In other words, they were doing everything they could have to help correct his behavior while he is still young.
But what was discouraging for me was hearing him talk about the very unhealthy relationships he witnessed at home. In one instance, he made a prejudiced remark and when the school administrators asked where he had heard it, he described an argument between a couple at home. Hearing this story makes me wonder how much of an impact teen dating violence prevention programs in middle and high schools can have, if bad behavior is constantly reinforced at home. Think about it: if someone has seen only unhealthy relationships for the first 15 years of their life, how would it all of a sudden change with a few sessions on dating violence in middle and/or high school? Is that really enough to erase the years of witnessing abusive relationships?
As I was planning to write this post today, I came across this article that gave me hope. In Istanbul, Turkey, a group of men participated in a 3 month long domestic violence prevention program, attending weekly meetings. The article quotes participants who explain how the program helped them understand domestic violence, and actually made a difference in their families. Programs like this give me hope–although the participants were adults and this apparently was the first time they had any sort of domestic violence education, the program still seemed to be effective. However, this program was much longer than what is currently available in US schools.
I’d like to be optimistic and say that regardless of the types of relationship patterns people may witness throughout their lives, they can still learn to develop healthy and safe relationships through domestic violence education in schools. But the status quo in the US is still weak–less than half of all states have legislation requiring teen dating violence education, and the programs that do exist are not taught very often. I really hope this is something that will change soon.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is up for reauthorization, and although the Senate bill passed with bipartisan support, House Republicans passed a version of the bill that lacked many important things for striving to end violence against women, one of which would require college campuses to have domestic violence prevention programs. The way that I see it, the more education we have about domestic violence, the more likely we will be able to end it.