Long before I was an author I was a fan of books about Winnie the Pooh, Babar, Madeline, Anne Shirley and anything by Judy Blume. Throughout high school my favourite class was English. No surprise, then, that most of my time spent at York University in Toronto was as an English major—not the traditional way to graduate with a B.A. (Hons) in film studies but a fine way to get a general arts education.
After getting my film studies degree I headed for Dublin, Ireland and spent the majority of the nineties there in forgettable jobs meeting unforgettable people and enjoying the buzz. I always believed I’d get around to writing in earnest eventually, and I began writing my first novel in a flat in Dublin and finished it in a Toronto suburb. By then I’d discovered that fiction about young people felt the freshest and most exciting to me. You have most of your life to be an adult but you only grow up once. [source]
Teen Dating Violence:
1 in 5 high school girls is physically or sexually hurt by a dating partner.
Most of us have seen the 2009 police photograph of Rihanna’s bloodied and swollen face, injuries she sustained when she was assaulted by then boyfriend Chris Brown. 2014 video footage of football player Ray Rice knocking out his fiancée, Janay, in an elevator also swept across media channels like wildfire. In that same year MMA fighter Jon Koppenhaver is alleged to have viciously attacked his ex-girlfriend, Christy Mack, lacerating her liver, fracturing her orbital bone, breaking her nose and taking out two of her teeth.
The sights, images, and accounts of these sudden, brutal eruptions of violence—high profile cases of domestic assault—is shocking. But while such visceral images of men physically abusing the women they’re intimately involved with sicken and enrages the majority of us, dating violence is anything but rare, and it begins early.
According to Statistics Canada, dating violence rose between 2004 and 2010 with victim numbers doubling to surpass that of spousal violence. Dating violence is highest among the 15-24 age group, making up 43% of all incidents of dating violence. Young women 15-19 experience 10 times more violence in relationships then young men. In the U.S. one in three teens is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a figure vastly exceeding rates of other types of youth violence. Females 16-24 are roughly 3 times more likely than the rest of the population to be abused by an intimate partner, and acts classified as “severe dating violence” inordinately affect young women 16-20.
Being physically or sexually abused makes teen girls six times more likely to become pregnant and twice as likely to get a STI. Young people who experience dating violence are also more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, engage in unhealthy behaviors such as alcohol and drug use, have suicidal thoughts, and exhibit violent behavior. Victims of dating violence in high school are at higher risk for victimization during college.
Similar to spousal violence, much of the abuse in dating scenarios happens after the relationship is over. RCMP stats show almost 60% of all dating violence occurs after the female has broken off the relationship.
While most of us are aware—and rail against—the dating violence suffered by Rihanna, Janay Rice and Christy Mack, we are far less likely to be aware of the violence being enacted against girls we know. Studies show only a third of teens who were in an abusive relationship confided in someone about the violence. The majority of parents of teen victims are unaware of the abuse. According to 2009 info collected by Teen Research Unlimited, although 82% of parents feel confident that they could recognize the signs if their child was experiencing dating abuse, a majority of parents (58%) could not correctly identify all the warning signs of abuse.
One of the things my book Delicate is about, is young people discovering the dating violence being committed in their midst, and how they react to it. It poses the question: what do you do when the person being abusive is a friend? Someone you were in Little League with and who has slept over at your house a dozen times over the years? Someone you care about?
Eliminating domestic violence means both supporting victims of abuse and changing the behaviour of those committing the violent acts. Since violent behaviour often starts between the ages of 12 and 18 and “the severity of intimate partner violence is often greater in cases where the pattern of abuse was established in adolescence” (source: loveisresepect.org) the best time to prevent and stop such abuse is clearly in adolescence.
Stoprelationshipabuse.org has a comprehensive list of the warning signs of abuse: http://stoprelationshipabuse.org/educated/warning-signs-of-abuse/
If you are a young person in an abusive dating relationship please confide in someone you trust. You can also get free and confidential support by calling Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868). Likewise, tell someone you trust if you know or suspect someone else is the victim of dating violence. Encourage the person to seek help and let them know you support them. Call 9-1-1 or the local police department if they are in immediate danger or if you believe their life may be on the line. Never confront an abuser or do anything that puts you in danger or feels unsafe
The more we discuss any forms of violence against women and girls as completely unacceptable, the more we reject gender inequality, the more men and boys join the ongoing conversation, the more support we show victims of domestic violence—whether male or female—the more we advocate for additional resources (shelters, counselling) to address this problem in our communities—the closer we will come to eliminating domestic violence.
Statistics from the U.S. Dept. of Justice, Statistics Canada, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, RCMP, Liz Claiborne Inc. teen dating violence survey and additional sources.
Cormorant Books is hosting a Goodreads Giveaway for Delicate during the blog tour (Nov. 24 – Dec. 8).