When Dating Becomes Deadly: Know the Signs of Teen Dating Violence

Kaleidoscope program at Sullivan HS
Sheree Cunningham, coordinator of Clerk Dorothy Brown’s Domestic Violence program, discusses Teen Dating Violence with students at Sullivan High School on October 16, 2014.

In a tragic case of teen dating violence in Romeoville, Illinois, on February 13, 2014, 15-year-old Briana Valle’s 23-year-old ex-boyfriend shot her and her mother, Alicia F. Guerrero. At a time when Ms. Guerrero should have been celebrating her daughter’s plans for her future, she was instead in a hospital room fighting for her life, and her daughter, Brianna, was dead.
As a teenager, I personally experienced a dating violence situation in college.  I was beaten many times and sometimes feared for my life, therefore, I understand the terror of it, and the damage it can do to one’s sense of security and feelings of self-worth. Throughout October, National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the Clerk’s Office is called on to provide speakers for several related community events, and one issue that we address is Teen Dating Violence, which has become such a major problem that on January 3, 2011, President Obama declared a separate month, February, as National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month.
“Kaleidoscope” is the name of the Clerk’s Office’s Teen Dating Violence Prevention Program. Trained speakers conduct workshops in area high schools for students, ages 13 to 18 years-old, and discuss what constitutes dating violence, how to know when a person is involved in a violent relationship and what type of help is available to get out of this type of relationship. The Clerk’s Office also produces the “ABC’s of Teen Dating Violence” brochure, a highly informative pamphlet that offers a wealth of advice about this issue, formatted in relatable language that teens can identify with. The brochure also includes 24-hour hotline telephone numbers and the contact number for the Clerk’s Office’s Domestic Violence program’s coordinator, Sheree Cunningham: (312) 325-9468.
Teenage dating violence is any verbal, physical, sexual or psychological/emotional abuse that occurs within a dating relationship. According to loveisrespect.org, in the U. S. one in three adolescents, between the ages of 12 and 18, is a victim of dating violence. Data recorded by the Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls and Young Women show that nearly 1 in 5 Chicago youth is experiencing violence in a dating relationship – and that the numbers are rising. The Taskforce emphasizes that dating violence is a serious issue for teens, noting that “a staggering 18.5% of Chicago youth surveyed reported that they had been hit, slapped or physically hurt on purpose by a boyfriend or girlfriend.  Rates are highest for African American girls, with 22.6% reporting that they had experienced dating violence.”
“Roughly 1.5 million high school boys and girls in the U.S admit to being intentionally hit or physically harmed in the last year by someone they are romantically involved with,” reports DoSomething.org.
The teen dating violence issue is exacerbated by the fact that only one-third of teens involved an abusive relationship confide in someone about the violence. This secrecy prevails even though a survey by the National Teen Dating Violence Prevention Authority reveals that “nearly 25% of 14-17 year-olds know at least one student who was a victim of dating violence, while 11% know multiple victims of dating violence, and 33% of teens have actually witnessed such an event.”
How can you know if a teen you love or care for is being victimized within a dating relationship? Some red flags to look for in young people include: depression and/or mood swings, isolation from family members and friends; the constant/urgent need to communicate with a boyfriend or girlfriend; low performance in school; difficulty in making decisions or the need to get the approval of a boyfriend or girlfriend before making decisions, and unexplained physical injuries.
On the other hand, there are also clues that a teen may be the abuser, such as: the teen believes it’s okay to use threats or violence to get his or her way; shows extreme jealousy and controlling behavior; has a history of aggressive behavior or bullying; blames others for problems, or has witnessed violence at home or in the community.
Educating youth about the importance of healthy relationships is at the core of teen dating violence prevention.  Our youth need to understand that healthy relationships demonstrate trust, honesty and mutual respect, the promotion of individuality, understanding and compromise between two individuals.
Parents, guardians, counselors and mentors play a significant role in the lives of teenagers and have the ability to foster within young people the importance of self-worth. Teenagers who know and understand their value are less likely to need to “find themselves” in other people.
Communication is a huge factor in breaking the silence surrounding teen dating violence.  Have conversations with your teenager. Discuss what is going in their lives and explore the issue of dating violence. If a teenager feels threatened in a dating relationship, assure him or her that their wellbeing is  very important, and support that teen in ending the abusive relationship.  If there is immediate danger, call the police and get an Order of Protection.
The Clerk’s Office is committed to helping eliminate the occurrence of teenage dating violence.  Interested persons can view and download the “ABC’s of Teen Dating Violence” from our website (www.cookcountyclerkofcourt.org) or call (312) 325-9468 to learn more about our Kaleidoscope workshops.
Teen dating violence is preventable. It is critical that we educate our young people about the causes, impact and consequences of dating violence. We must establish and maintain strong communication with our youth, create ideas and habits that foster healthy dating attitudes and respectful relationships. Most importantly, we must help our teens develop zero tolerance for any form of dating violence.
Hon. Dorothy Brown is the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois. For more information, visit https://www.cookcountyclerkofcourt.org. Email us at clerkofcourt@cookcountycourt.com. Like us on Facebook.com/cookcountyclerkofcourt. Follow us on Twitter@CourtClerkBrown.

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