On a rainy evening in October, adults, teens, and parents from a wide spectrum of the Fairfax community gathered to commemorate Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Tonya Turner, Senior Staff Attorney at Breakthecycle.org presented a program on teen dating abuse Sponsored by the Fairfax County Office for Women, Domestic and Sexual Violence Services. The compelling evening began with a moving speech by DASH mom, Lynne Russell. The program was dedicated to our own Siobhan.
Ms. Turner’s presentation involved current statistics and information gleaned from her experience representing teen domestic and dating abuse survivors. Emphasizing that a teen is particularly vulnerable to dating abuse if they are new to dating or are influenced by peer pressure to continue a relationship, Ms. Turner told the audience that a cycle of abusive behavior exists over the course of time.
Audience participation exercises brought this information closer to home. A short scene of a couple arguing evolved into the young man physically restraining the young womanto prevent her from leaving. Ms. Turner asked the audience: “Why would you let your partner put his hands on you to prevent you from leaving? You wouldn’t accept this behavior from a friend, or therapist.”
In another powerful demonstration, the audience watched the Rihanna and Eminem video “Love the Way You Lie” with the sound muted in an effort to identify the acts of violence and intimidation presented. Many of the teens were already familiar with the video and its controversial theme, but they paid closer attention and many indicated they noticed things that they had not previously seen when the music was played.
Ms. Turner also gave advice to friends and family of teens in abusive relationships. A friend must understand how difficult it is for a victim to leave the abuser. According to Ms. Turner, it takes 5 to 7 attempts before a victim will leave an abusive relationship permanently. She pointed out that telling a teen to “just leave” isn’t helpful because it’s like calling the victim stupid; she knows she should leave, but it isn’t that easy. Family and friends may have no idea the level of fear or threats the victim is experiencing. Providing a base of non-judgmental support is among the best things a friend/family member can do. Remember, don’t give up on her! With your loving support she can do it, but don’t try to solve the problem yourself. Just keep encouraging your friend to contact you if they do decide to get help.
Set at ease by Ms. Turner’s conversational manner, the teens willingly engaged in the answer and question session. The most inspiring moment of the evening occurred when a young woman in the audience finally admitted to her mother that she had been the victim of dating abuse in a past relationship. Ultimately, this is what DASH and Break the Cycle are all about: getting teens to open up and continue a dialog with each other and their parents on this very important topic.