More than half of America's teens know friends who have experienced some sort of dating abuse, while nearly three in four say that physical dating violence is a serious concern for their age group, according to a study released Thursday.
The study, conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited in partnership with Liz Claiborne Inc., exposes alarming patterns of physical, verbal and sexual abuse among teens in dating relationships. Teens surveyed ranged in age from 13 to 18 and extended across all ethnic groups, cities and suburbs.
"It is clear that dating violence is a critical problem facing youth in America and there seems to be a lack of focus on addressing this issue in our educational system nationwide," said Christine Blaber of the Center for School and Community Health at the Education Development Center.
One in three teens reported knowing a friend who has been hit, punched, kicked, slapped, choked or physically hurt by their partner, while nearly one in five girls admit they have been in a relationship where their boyfriend had threatened physical abuse if presented with a break-up. Twenty-six percent of girls said they have been in a relationship where they endured repeated verbal abuse by their partner, and 13 percent reported enduring repeated physical abuse.
Some 80 percent of teens say they regard verbal abuse a "serious issue" for their age group. Nearly 73 percent said they would turn to a friend for help if they were ever caught in an abusive relationship, but only 33 percent of those who have actually been involved in or known of an abusive relationship said they have told anyone about it.
In response to the findings, a high school curriculum will be launched in nine schools across the country by Liz Claiborne's Education Development Center this fall to help adolescents recognize abuse and learn how to get help. "Our hope is that this curriculum will help educate teens on how to identify all forms of relationship abuse and understand what types of actions are and are not acceptable in a healthy dating relationship," said Jane Randel, vice president of corporate communications for Claiborne.
The extent of teen-dating abuse revealed in the survey has mobilized many of the country's leading education, domestic violence and teen experts from such organizations as Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, the Family Violence Prevention Fund, the After-School Corporation and U.S. Senator Patty Murray to come together for the cause. The Love Is Not Abuse Curriculum will be targeted toward ninth- and 10th-grade students to help them recognize, respond to and seek help for those suffering from relationship abuse. Lessons will begin with a poem, short story or passage from a novel that illustrates a key dating-violence concept, like the reluctance of victims to seek help. Students will be asked to discuss and write about the text and explore the options that relate to the concept, like reaching out to a supportive adult when one is in need.
"Our goal is to create a dynamic initiative that will be easily incorporated into the school day to help teenagers name it, understand it, provide resources and suggestions about what to do when it arises and ultimately help stop its growth," said Blaber.