Teen Dating Violence – A Reawakening


Raising awareness about teen dating violence.

Last month was National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month as awareness was being raised among teens and the surrounding community about the signs, as well as to discourage this type of violence. Statistics show that one in three teens will experience dating violence and more than two-thirds never come forward and tell anyone. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), teen dating violence is a serious public health problem that is growing in the United States.  The CDC also reports that one in four adolescents individually report verbal, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse from a dating partner each year.  Additionally, 10 percent of students nationwide report being physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend in the past 12 months.  Research has shown that dating or intimate partner violence can lead to serious injuries for its victims, poorer mental and physical health, more “high risk” or deviant behavior, and increased school avoidance for youth or young adults.  Dating violence is associated with higher levels of depression, suicidal thoughts, and poorer educational outcomes. Some factors include environmental and social risk factors, i.e. family, education, environment, peer influence, exposure to parental violence, community violence, alcohol or substance abuse, and even gender equity.

 There have been fewer and fewer reports around teen dating violence, but this does not mean its not happening.  Some states have cut funding towards youth violence prevention programs because of this.  However, its in the silence that more and more teens are falling victims to dating violence.  As peer pressure is a major factor, many more teens have avoided reporting to avoid further conflict.  Young teens experimenting in relationships do not fully understand that controlling behaviors and extreme jealousy are warning signs.  Even social media outlets have been a major source of extreme violence and has become the foreground for abuse in young relationships.  This can lead to skewed views of healthy relationships and can put our young people at major risk for continued violence. What needs to be done to raise awareness in our communities and among society’s teens?

To reduce the risk of dating violence victimization, the healthcare community needs to implement more evidence-based youth dating violence and sexual assault prevention programs in schools and the community to reach the adolescent target audience. It may also be helpful to target marital and parenting programs to reduce the incidence of parental violence as this can also be a direct factor. This can be an essential step in the development of a comprehensive public health prevention initiative to end teen dating violence as behaviors are molded in the home.  Clinicians also need to participate and contribute to this effort in order to construct the consistent and effective prevention techniques needed to decrease violence in the home/community, stigma involved around communication, increase communication skills, and protect the health of high risk adolescents.  Empowering people to have the ability to feel safe in a relationship and share this knowledge is vital for developing future relationships, both romantically and casually. 

 Ignoring this vicious problem will never make it go away.  The only way to relieve this is to tackle it head-on. Any type of violence is abuse, regardless of whether its male or female perpetrated. We need to set an example and raise awareness if we want to see healthy relationships for future generations. 

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-Rebecca Kurikeshu

Analysis Human Rights

Family Separation, A Natural Byproduct of the U.S. Immigration System

Tina Vasquez

There are millions of children in the United States born into households where one or more of their parents are undocumented—and thousands of these parents are deported each year.

To honor migrant mothers in detention this Mother’s Day, the immigrant rights organization CultureStrike has partnered with Presente.org, NWDC Resistance, and Strong Families. Visitors to MamasDay.org can pick out a card and write a message to a detained mother, and members of CultureStrike will deliver printed cards to detention centers nationwide.

A card from a stranger on the internet is a small gesture, but one that could have been meaningful to Monica Morales’ mother when she was detained at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center late last year. Morales told Rewire her mother, usually a fighter, was depressed and that her morale was at an all-time low. She’d been picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the border while attempting to escape her abusive ex-husband in Mexico and the gang violence that plagued her neighborhood in Chihuahua. After being deported in 2010, she was trying to reenter the United States and reunite with her family in Amarillo, Texas, but the reunion would never happen.

As an adult, Morales is somewhat able to make sense of what occurred, but she worries about what she will tell her three young children about what has happened to their family. These are hard conversations happening all over the country, as there are millions of children in the United States born into households where one or more of their parents are undocumentedand thousands of these parents are deported each year. And, advocates say, there are few, if any, programs available to help immigrant children cope with their trauma.

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“There’s Literally Nothing We Can Do”

On any given day, there are 34,000 people in immigration detention. Prior to the “border crisis” that brought thousands of Central American women to the United States seeking asylum, the Women’s Refugee Commission reported that 10 percent of those in detention were women. Since 2009, that figure has likely increased, but the exact number is unknown.

Morales’ mother was one of them.

Though they were both located in Texas at the time, Morales said getting her mom’s phone calls from Hutto was heartbreaking and that she couldn’t have felt further away or more helpless. Morales hit her breaking point when one day, her mom called sobbing, saying she and seven other women were forced to spend the day in a room covered in urine, blood, and excrement. It was shortly after that Morales’ mom decided to participate in the hunger strike Rewire reported on earlier this year.

“My mom would always tell me that dogs at the pound are treated better than they are in Hutto and other detention centers,” Morales said. “At least at the pound, they try to help the dogs and they want them to get adopted. At places like Hutto, they don’t care what happens to you, they don’t care if you’ll get killed if you get deported. If someone is sick, they don’t care. If someone is suffering, they don’t care.”

Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s oldest and largest for-profit private prison corporation, runs Hutto. The company has come under fire many times for human rights violations, including at Hutto, which was once used to detain immigrant families, including children. The Obama administration removed families from the facility in 2009 after numerous allegations of human rights abuses, including, according to the Texas Observer, “accounts of children suffering psychological trauma.” In 2010, there were also multiple allegations of sexual assault at the detention center.

Morales’ mother was not aware of Hutto’s history of abuse cases, but Morales told Rewire that after the hunger strike, her mother and other women who participated believed they were being retaliated against by Hutto officers because they had brought more bad publicity to the facility. Morales’ mom was deemed by detention officers a “dangerous detainee” and had to wear a different color uniform to identify her as such, Morales said. She was also placed in solitary confinement for over a month before she was transferred to another detention facility.

Six weeks ago, Morales’ mother was deported back to Chihuahua where she must remain for 20 years, because those who have been deported once before and then attempt to reenter the United States within a period of “inadmissibility” automatically trigger a longer ban.

Advocates have told Rewire that transfers to other facilities and solitary confinement are common tactics used by both detention and ICE officers to retaliate against those who go on strike.

During the time of the hunger strike, ICE denied allegations that it was retaliating against detainees in the form of transfers and solitary confinement. A spokesperson said in a statement to Rewire that it “routinely transfers detainees to other facilities for various reasons, including bed-space availability or to provide greater access to specialized services needed by particular detainees.” The spokesperson added that Hutto “does not have solitary confinement areas.”

As Mother’s Day approaches, Morales told Rewire that her head is heavy with thoughts of her mother. The chance they will be able to see each other anytime soon is slim. If her mom attempts to reenter the United States a third time and is caught, she will be permanently barred. Morales is a DACA recipient, which means she qualified for an immigration policy put into place by President Obama that allows undocumented immigrants who entered the country before their 16th birthday and before June 2007 to receive a work permit and exemption from deportation renewable every two years (but for only as long as the DACA program is in place). It also means Morales is unable to travel outside of the United States unless there is an emergency, and for obvious reasons, those are not the conditions under which she wants to see her mother.

“We can’t see my mom for 20 years and there’s literally nothing we can do,” Morales told Rewire. “I can’t go to Mexico. The only way I can go is if something were to happen to my mom, and I pray I don’t have to go in that situation. And honestly, I would worry if the [Border Patrol] would let me return to the U.S. even though I’d have my paperwork in order. I’ve heard that happens. If you’re in my situation, everything is so risky and I can’t take those risks. I have three children. My youngest child has health issues and he needs medication. My second child suffers from tumors and he needs yearly check-ups. I can’t risk my status in the U.S. to go back.”

Like her mother, Morales is a domestic abuse survivor and she is upset by how immigration laws have impacted her family and offer little recourse to women who are attempting to escape violence. If nothing else, she said, this anger has moved her to be more politically active. Not only has she started a campaign to get Hutto shut down, but she is doing interviews and other activities to shine a light on how the U.S. immigration system further traumatizes survivors of domestic violence, the mental health issues that arise when being forced to navigate such a “horrible” system, and the family separation that has become a natural byproduct of it all.

“I don’t think Americans know what this does to our families or our communities,” Morales said. “I wonder a lot that if people knew what happened to our families, if they would even care. Moms [are] in detention for years just for trying to give their kids a better life. Parents [are] being deported and killed and their children have to be raised by other people. Do people even care?”

The Morales Family

Morales and her sister are working together to pay for bi-weekly psychiatrist sessions in Mexico for their mom, who is struggling with being separated from her only support system and who Morales strongly believes was severely traumatized by her experiences at Hutto.

“She can’t work; she can’t reintegrate herself into society. She can’t leave the house by herself; she can’t be in the house by herself. After being detained, my mom was treated so bad that that I think she started to believe she deserved it. My grandma says my mom can’t sleep at night, she paces. My grandpa asks her what’s wrong and she just says she feels like she’s suffocating. She can’t calm down. She has a lot of anxiety, a lot of depression. She’s different than she used to be,” Morales said.

The Impact of Immigration Policies on Families

Wendy Cervantes is vice president of immigration and child rights at First Focus, one of the few children’s advocacy organizations in the country to focus on immigrant families. Cervantes told Rewire that if adults, much like Morales’ mom, struggle mightily with family separation and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting from trauma experienced in their countries of origin and exacerbated by navigating the U.S. immigration system, what must it be like for children?

While it’s certainly true that all immigrant families fear family separation, the challenges faced by mixed-status families like Morales’ are unique. “Mixed status” is in reference to a family comprised of people with different citizenship statuses. A parent, for example, may be undocumented, but their children are American citizens or are “DACA-mented.”

A report from Human Impact Partners, Family Unity, Family Health, found that “nationwide, an estimated 4.5 million children who are U.S. citizens by birth live in families where one or more of their parents are undocumented.” And when deportations occur on the scale that they have under the Obama administration, not only do they separate families, but they have overwhelming an effect on the health and well-being of children. Besides being more apt to suffer poverty, diminished access to food and health care, and limited educational opportunities, children suffer from fear and anxiety about the possible detainment or deportation of their family members. This leads to poor health, behavioral, and educational outcomes, and sometimes results in shorter lifespans, according to Family Unity, Family Health.

In 2012, Colorlines reported that about 90,000 undocumented parents of American citizen children were deported each year. The number has declined since then. In 2013, government data showed it was 72,410, but the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) only documents the number of parents with children who are citizens, not cases in which parents with undocumented children are deported.

“If a kid has to go back to a violent country they’ve never been with their deported parent or if they have to stay behind without a parent or go into the child welfare system, none of it is ideal,” Cervantes told Rewire. “The constant fear your parent will be detained or deported has very large consequences on children, who are showing signs of PTSD at younger and younger ages. The immigration system can really take a kid’s childhood away from them.”

Who Will Address Their Trauma?

The American citizen or DACA-mented children of undocumented parents suffer from things like anxiety and depression because of fears their parents will be detained or deported, Cervantes told Rewire. Furthermore, there are well over one million undocumented children in the United States and to her knowledge, there are no services provided for these children to cope with their trauma.

According to the American Psychological Association, “research indicates that unaccompanied refugee minors experience greater risk of mental illness than general populations.” Based on work she’s done with unaccompanied minors from Central America, Cervantes said the levels of PTSD in these children is “on another level,” which is part of the reason why she said she’s so appalled by the administration’s aggressive approach to the Central American asylum-seeking population, which she said is greatly lacking in empathy.

“I’ve met unaccompanied kids who have told me horrendous stories. They witness horrible things on their journey here, but they were also escaping horrible things in their country of origin. An 8-year-old witnessing a girl he knew from his neighborhood getting gang-raped as part of a gang initiation and seeing his best friend getting beheaded by a gang on his way to school,” Cervantes told Rewire. “How many years of serious counseling and professional help would it take for an adult to be OK after seeing such violence? Now consider we’re talking about a child. It’s so disturbing, and then these same kids get placed in facilities that are like jails. How are they expected to function?”

While counseling is offered in detention, those services have been highly criticized by pediatricians, therapists, and advocates as inadequate at best, especially considering that the counselors in the facilities often only speak English. It’s also important to note, Cervantes said, that these services are only offered while the child or parent is detained. Once they’re released, there isn’t a clear federal program that offer assistance to directly address their trauma.

Rather than sitting around and hoping a program will eventually be created, advocates are currently working on gathering a team of psychiatrists to visit detention centers and assess the mental health services offered. Next week, First Focus will also be launching a TV and radio campaign about family separation spanning eight states, using donated airtime valued at $1 million.

Over the years as she’s worked in immigration, Cervantes is routinely surprised by how little most Americans seem to know about how the immigration system actually works and the very real ways things like detainment and deportation rip families apart, traumatizing people of all ages. She told Rewire that she hopes the upcoming campaign humanizes the issue and helps people understand that family separation isn’t a rarity and that it happens in every community in every state.

“I’m actually very disturbed by so much of the immigration process, especially how we treat families who are seeking asylum and who have risked their lives. I have to believe that if Americans came to understand this, they’d be disturbed too,” Cervantes said. “I just wish I knew why we can’t be compassionate to people who really need our compassion.”

UPDATE: This piece has been updated to include new details about the First Focus program, including that the campaign will span eight states, up from three.

Commentary Violence

The NFL’s Domestic Violence Policy Is Dangerous

Jodi Jacobson

Among other things, the policy misunderstands how deeply manipulative, destructive, coercive, and dangerous abusers can be.

Read more about intimate partner violence and the Ray Rice case here.

My mother was a very fashionable woman, and she accessorized outfits with lots of cool sunglasses—the large, dramatic kind that were popular when I was growing up. There were times, however, when my mom wore sunglasses less for sun protection than as a form of self-protection. Sometimes in the fall she wore them all day to hide eyes swollen from acute bouts of hay fever. Other times she wore them in an effort to hide the black eyes and swelling that came courtesy of my father’s fists.

My father was, at 6’4″ and very broad-shouldered, an intimidating man to many people and anytime he wanted to be. My mother was 5’6″, petite.

Watching the video of Ray Rice first punching and then dragging his then fiancée, Janay Rice (née Palmer), out of an elevator in Atlantic City brought me right back to a scene from my childhood when, hearing an argument escalate between my father and mother in another part of our home, I ran downstairs to see my father dragging my unconscious mother out of the spare bedroom. I went into what I can only call my “automatic” mode: I began beating my father with my then 10-year-old fists.

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I am the oldest of four and the only girl in my natal family, part of what was then a very large extended family. In our “traditional” family, the men were supposed to be “in charge” (though the women held everything—and I mean everything—together), and they were supposed to go unchallenged no matter how wrong they were. For some reason, I was the only one who could and did stand up to my father without being beaten; my brothers on the other hand were not spared. As a result, and out of what I can only say was an inherent sense of injustice, I became my mother’s protector, a role I assumed (though I should not have had to) from the earliest time I can remember.

Being my mother’s protector meant laying awake at night after my father would come home late, waiting to hear if an argument would start and if I would have to jump in to prevent harm. It meant fearing for my mother any time I left home, whether it be to a sleepover at a friend’s house or to summer camp. It meant constant anxiety about what might happen to my mom. And it meant refusing opportunities—like a junior year abroad in college—for fear that if I did go, my mother might not be alive when I got back.

When my mother died in 1993 of what I was told was a massive heart attack, it was after a fight with my father in a restaurant, and after he made her get out of the car on a country road in the middle of winter. I never really found out what happened, though I tried incessantly to get more information from the police and from the emergency room. All I knew was that in the end I could not protect her.

My mother came from a family of extremely modest means, got married when she was 16, and had four children by the time she was 24. (She also had at least two miscarriages and one abortion.) Many times throughout my adolescence and early adulthood, I begged her to leave my father and get a divorce. “You are beautiful, smart, and strong,” I would tell her, “and you can make a life for yourself.” She refused, and I did not fully understand why until later: She was afraid of what my father would do to her, and for the safety of her kids.

She had no college degree, no job experience, and no personal wealth on which to fall back. She also knew no one would believe (or want to hear about) her abuse at the hands of my father. Too many people knew my father as the gregarious, generous guy who picked up people’s checks at restaurants, always dressed well, and (in their eyes) provided for his family. I know her fears were valid, because even after both parents had died, I could not discuss these details of my family’s past with my cousins—they either didn’t believe me, or they told me it “wasn’t my business to fix.” Nonetheless, this past followed me into adulthood in the form of severe depression that it took me years to conquer.

These early personal experiences, coupled with a career spent promoting women’s rights, make it clear to me that, in response to Ray Rice’s violence, the NFL has made and continues to make grave mistakes that are without question dangerous to Janay Rice and her daughter, as well as to countless other women and children.

In February, TMZ first released footage of Ray Rice dragging Janay out of the Atlantic City elevator. Both of them were arrested for supposedly attacking each other, though what attack Janay could have made on her fiancé with her bare hands that would have justified him punching her in the head and knocking her unconscious is beyond my comprehension.

In May, the Baltimore Ravens hosted a press conference featuring both Ray and Janay Rice, who had gotten married in the intervening months. Ray Rice begins the press conference by apologizing to everyone except his wife and speaks about “this situation” as though a piano had fallen on them out of the sky. He takes no real responsibility, and never utters the words “violence,” “assault,” or “attack.” Even more astounding (to some) is that later in the same press conference Janay Rice apologized for her “role” in “this incident,” a statement that sounds very much like something engineered by the NFL and the Ravens press teams, but one she may have believed, at least somewhat, since victims of violence are so often made to blame themselves.

The NFL first suspended Rice for two games for what NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell called a “horrible mistake,” and a flood of criticism ensued, against which Goodell defended himself and the league. Later, as the criticism of Goodell, the NFL, and the Ravens continued to pour in, Goodell admitted he had “not gotten it right the first time” and put in place a new policy that includes a six-game suspension for “first offenses” and a lifetime ban for a “second incident.”

This week, Rice’s contract was terminated and he was cut from the Ravens after an extended portion of the video from his attack on his fiancée was posted by TMZ—a video we have strong reason to believe NFL and Ravens officials had seen months earlier. Though this was Rice’s “first incident” (as far as we know), the public’s access to the video and the PR disaster that resulted was just too much for the NFL to handle. Ravens coach John Harbaugh said that seeing the video “made things a little bit different.” Really? How? Seeing a woman lying unconscious on a hotel lobby floor after being dragged like a rag doll from an elevator and then kicked as though she was an inanimate object (as depicted in video release in February) wasn’t enough to convince him that Ray Rice had committed a serious offense?

Goodell, Harbaugh, and the NFL writ large have put Janay Rice and countless other women in danger with their approach to Ray Rice’s abuse and their “protect the NFL at all costs” policies. I have seen no statement from the NFL that makes clear they understand that, no matter what information or videos are or are not leaked to the public, punching Janay Rice was unacceptable. Nor have I seen a statement from the NFL decrying the fact that she was arrested in conjunction with her own abuse.

Furthermore, they participated in helping Janay Rice become complicit in her own abuse, further underscoring their indifference and ignorance about intimate partner violence by including her in that grotesque stand-by-your-man press conference and tweeting out her apology from the Ravens Twitter account. (That tweet has since been deleted.) This behavior perpetuates the myth that somehow the victim “deserved” what happened to her (She lunged at him, didn’t she? She was arrested too, wasn’t she?), and exploits the personal blame that is so characteristic of victims and survivors of intimate partner abuse. It absolves the rest of us of any responsibility for taking action.

The NFL continues to only talk about Ray and Janay Rice as a couple, with no indication that they understand the danger that she, as an individual, may now be in. It is well recognized by researchers and domestic violence advocates that the most dangerous time for victims of intimate partner violence is when they try to leave, which is something my mother knew instinctively. The most dangerous time for Janay Rice may be right now, as she is living with a man whose mindset may well be that his career has just been cut short because of his wife.

Harbaugh said Monday, “I have nothing but hope and goodwill for Ray and Janay. And we’ll do whatever we can going forward to help them as they go forward and try to make the best of it.”

This help does not seem to include making clear that the NFL is placing Janay’s safety first. Harbaugh’s statement reinforces the notion that domestic abuse is a “private problem,” shared by both parties, in which they have equal culpability. At no point has the NFL assured us that anything is being done to provide for Janay’s safety. Nor has the league publicly expressed any understanding of what this episode and any ongoing abuse could do to the Rices’ young daughter. Leaving it up to Janay to “work things out” with a violent husband means that she is left alone in what may be an ongoing abusive relationship, with few places to turn.

And, despite a recent announcement of a more comprehensive approach to domestic violence within the NFL, I don’t have a great deal of confidence in the league going forward. In his announcement, Goodell promised:

[W]e will ensure that the NFL LifeLine and NFL Total Wellness Program are staffed with personnel trained to provide prompt and confidential assistance to anyone at risk of domestic violence or sexual assault — whether as a victim or potential aggressor. Information regarding these resources will be furnished to all NFL personnel and their families. Our Player Engagement Directors and Human Resource Executives will meet with team spouses and significant others to ensure that they are aware of the resources available to them as NFL family members, including the ability to seek confidential assistance through independent local resources, as well as through the club or the NFL Total Wellness Program. In this respect, we will utilize our existing, established telephone and on-line programs, and will communicate the full range of available services to all NFL personnel and their families.

Several things worry me about this new policy. For one, it puts the NFL in the role of self-policing, an approach that has proven to be a huge failure with regard to sexual assault and rape at universities and one that makes me deeply uncomfortable, given the NFL’s institutional imperative for good publicity and self-preservation. Second, it seems again to misunderstand how deeply manipulative, destructive, coercive, and dangerous abusers can be.

In addition, the NFL’s “second incident” approach to domestic violence places women in jeopardy, both now and in the future. Look at it this way: A football player abuses his partner, or anyone for that matter. This is bad PR for the league and the player, and it’s bad for the player’s pocketbook and career. So the victim does not report because she doesn’t want to be the one responsible for what happens after, perhaps even under threat of more violence. Let’s say, however, the abuse otherwise becomes public. The player is suspended. For that woman or any subsequent woman to seek help for further abuse (the “second incident”) means that again, in her abuser’s eyes, she would be responsible for his lifetime ban from the league. Is anyone doubtful about the kinds of coercion and threats that come into play here? Any intimate partner subject to current or future abuse and threats will almost certainly be less likely to come forward and report because the consequences for that victim may be more abuse or even death.

It is an untenable situation, and I am not sure of the ways around it, but I know this is not the answer. Why is even one incident of abuse OK?

One thing the NFL must begin to do is talk about the victims of domestic abuse as people who are indeed victims. They are not in “situations.” They did not “play a role” in their abuse. They have been attacked, violated, beaten, and demoralized, and their safety and the safety of their children is paramount.

Moreover, everyone in the NFL—every player, coach, front office administrator, public relations rep, and equipment manager—should have to undergo training in understanding, spotting, and supporting victims of intimate partner violence. Not the perpetrators, the victims.

And it’s time for the league to put its money where its mouth is. The NFL takes in billions of dollars every year as a not-for-profit—and therefore tax-exempt—organization, a situation that not only boggles my mind but stretches reality. (How does that work, IRS?) I would like to propose that the NFL put $100 million immediately—not in installments, not over time—into a fund to be administered by a coalition of domestic violence shelters and counseling centers throughout the country, the budgets of which have been slashed by governors in many states. I would further propose that a minimum of $25 million be donated to that account every year for the next ten years. The league can afford it, and victims of violence need it. That would be a real start.