With more news concerning abusive relationships, you may find students coming to you for help with their situation. This is a guide not only for how to help these students, but also to understand the prevalence and dynamics of abuse.
What is domestic violence? What is dating violence?
Domestic and dating violence aren’t really that different. What starts out as dating violence may very well turn into domestic violence once people marry. Or, sometimes there will be no violence in a relationship until people are married. Every case is unique, but the general elements and dynamics of relationship violence are the same regardless of the situation. Relationship violence usually starts as verbal and emotional abuse, such as put downs and manipulation. It usually progresses into physical and/or sexual violence at the point that verbal and emotional abuse is no longer an effective way for the abuser to control his or her partner. It is a myth that relationship violence is simply someone losing their temper—it is a cycle of abuse that is repetitive and controlled. In fact, it is a means of gaining power and control over the other person in the relationship. It usually escalates over time and occurs in all sectors of society, from the rich to poor, in every race and religion.
How prevalent is domestic and dating violence?
According to Liz Claiborne Inc., more than 1 in 4 American women report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend. 57% of American teens know peers who have been physically, sexually or verbally abused.
A timely issue in dating abuse among teens is cell phone abuse. As benign as it may sound, it is a serious issue in which teens will constantly call or text their partners as a means of surveillance and control. The messages range from “checking in” constantly to sending threatening and/or explicit messages.
What are the effects of domestic violence on kids?
Kids who see domestic violence in the home are more likely to either be abusers or victims. Of course kids can also break the cycle of abuse, but education is necessary so they don’t identify abuse as a normal part relationships. Kids who have experienced abuse at home experience many adverse effects to their development. First, child abuse and neglect is much more likely in households in which spousal abuse is present. 40-60% of men abusing women also abuse their children. Children in abusive homes are 15 times more likely to be neglected than children growing up in homes without violence.
For many years it was believed that as long as children were not being physically abused themselves, they would not be affected by witnessing domestic violence in their home. Recent studies have proven otherwise. Kids from homes with domestic violence may suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, slowed brain development, depression, violent behavior and anxiety, to name a few. Children of abused mothers are 6 times more likely to commit suicide and 50% more likely to use drugs/alcohol to cope with stress at home. Clearly, the cycle of violence in the home must be broken to ensure that kids have safe and healthy homes.
What can I do if a student comes to me regarding abuse, either with themselves or in their homes?
You are a mandatory reporter of child abuse, meaning if a child is being abused, you are legally obligated to notify child protective services. However, if the abuse is in the home but not directed toward the child, the child is over 18, or the student comes to you for advice or to get help for a friend, there are certain things you can do.
First of all, BELIEVE THEM. This is the most important thing. Many people do not come forward with abuse that has taken place because they are afraid people won’t believe them. In fact, abuse is the most underreported crime in the United States and false reports are rare.
Secondly, DON’T BLAME THEM. One reason people don’t come forward with abuse reports is that they think they will be blamed for the abuse. Tell the student: “It’s not your fault; you don’t deserve to be treated like that.”
Thirdly, ask the student what you can do for them. If they just need someone to talk to, you can play that role. However, be sure to let them know their options so they can make an informed decision about what to do next. Some options for further information and confidential help in Gallatin County are: HAVEN (for domestic and dating violence) 586-4111 and The Sexual Assault Counseling Center, 586-3333.
Lastly, support any decision they make, even if you do not personally think it wise. Many abused people go back to their abusers for various reasons, not because they like to be hurt. The more support they have from people, including teachers, the more likely it is that they will gain the strength to leave an abusive relationship.
If a student comes to you and says they are worried that they are being abusive, you can do many of the same things. Strongly encourage them to get help and reiterate that they have the ability to change their behavior, no matter their past or family history.
If you are approached by a student or hear about a situation that you are unsure about, you are also welcome to call HAVEN confidentially at 586-4111 to get advice and guidance.
Thank you for your willingness to be a supportive source of information and help for students. It makes all the difference.