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Guest Blog: Creating Communities of Safety and Trust for Teens

Feb 17, 2013 — Categories:

"I was trying to justify with myself for so long about what happened like oh it's only happened a few times or whatever. But the truth is that it is 3 times too many, I need to have enough strength and respect for myself to not tolerate that." - High School Girl from TN February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month and all across the United States there are teenagers in dating relationships who may be confronting situations similar to this young girl. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control reported that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men who experienced violence by an intimate partner first experienced it as a teenager between the ages of 11 and 19. Additionally, recent studies have found that teen dating violence and bullying frequently co-occur in teens.

"I was trying to justify with myself for so long about what happened like oh it's only happened a few times or whatever. But the truth is that it is 3 times too many, I need to have enough strength and respect for myself to not tolerate that." - High School Girl from TN

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month and all across the United States there are teenagers in dating relationships who may be confronting situations similar to this young girl. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control reported that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men who experienced violence by an intimate partner first experienced it as a teenager between the ages of 11 and 19. Additionally, recent studies have found that teen dating violence and bullying frequently co-occur in teens.1

These statistics can be reduced through education and intervention. We need both secular and religious educators who are willing to provide opportunities for young people to learn how to choose and sustain healthy relationships and how to identify signs of abuse. We also need healthy adults to work together to hold teens accountable for their abusive behavior. Because of the dynamics of teen dating violence (and all intimate partner violence), we know that it can be difficult to seek resources for help, or to talk to others about what is happening. As ministers, teachers, and parents, we need to provide places of safety and trust where teens can speak honestly about their experiences, and can access the resources they need.

One of the aspects of teen dating violence is a feeling of isolation. Victims often believe that no one will believe or understand what they are experiencing and therefore they often see no way to process their feelings around complicated situations. As faith partners in our faith communities, we can create safe spaces where unconditional love, belonging, and significance are valued and where abuse is not tolerated.

Sadly, for victims, the cycle of destructive behavior and/or violence results in an attitude and belief about oneself that is similar to the abused girl quoted above. Unless someone intervenes, they begin to believe that it will always be this way, telling themselves, “You deserve to be treated this way. You’re no good.”2 They need someone to intervene and to help them be released from the burdens they are carrying around. They need someone to intervene who can remind them that this is not how their lives were meant to be lived. They need a community where they experience unconditional love and safety.

Those who are abusing their teen partners need someone to call them on it, whether adults or peers. Coercive control and physical, emotional or sexual abuse in a dating relationship is not okay. If necessary, law enforcement is an option.  Assault is against the law. But they also need a place they can talk, share their confusion, and shape their choices about being a responsible partner.

I am thankful that God has placed me in a role where I can help teens understand that they deserve respect in their relationships and that there are resources available if they are experiencing abuse. In my time as a public school teacher, youth minister, and now as a denominational leader, I have had opportunities to intervene in times of need and to celebrate in times of joy. In both situations, their desire was to be known - known by another, known by a community, and known by a God who loves and walks with them. My hope is that you will have that same opportunity.

References:
1. Briefing - Teen Dating Violence. YWCA, 2013.
http://www.ywca.org/site/c.cuIRJ7NTKrLaG/b.7988767/k.1C/Briefing__Prevent_Teen_Dating_Violence.htm
2. Howver, Jen and Hutchinson, Megan. Secret Survivors. Youth Specialties, 2008.

Brad Fiscus

Brad Fiscus is the Director of Young Peopleʼs Ministry for the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church. He has a passion for sharing the Gospel with all ages especially youth and young adults and enjoys coming out to the local churches to partner in ministry to connect all people to the life changing Word of God. He is a member of Epworth United Methodist Church in Franklin, TN where he served as Director of Youth Ministry.

He is a former middle and high school science teacher, wrestling and football coach, student leadership advisor and consultant  In his limited spare time, he enjoys creating stained glass art and going fishing with his dad.

He has been married for 22 years to Shelley who is a pediatrician in Franklin. They have two children Mareʼ and Collins.

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