By Esta Soler, President and Founder, Futures Without Violence
Not long ago, I had the privilege of meeting Johanna Orozco, an inspiring young woman who has become an anti-violence advocate and teen educator. In 2007, two months before her junior prom, Johanna was sitting in a car in her own driveway when her ex-boyfriend Juan suddenly appeared, raised a gun to the window, and shot her in the face. After more than 12 dramatic surgeries and a prison sentence for the ex-boyfriend, Johanna began speaking to youth groups. She explained that girls and young women often ask her why she stayed in a relationship with a controlling boyfriend for several years. Her reply: “Fear….and hope.” Hope that he would change and not be irrational or controlling.
So what’s so different about how teens are dating today vs. 2007? It’s the HUGE role that technology plays in every phase of their lives. In the wrong hands—like a boyfriend who keeps tabs on his girlfriend at all hours —a cell phone can be a tool for abuse. How about sexting? The dangerous practice of texting sexual or provocative images to partners, friends, or even strangers has unfortunately become the new normal for many teens. In a recent study, more than two in three teens, and three in four young adults had sent sexts to romantic partners.
I guess it should come as no surprise that girls are almost twice as likely to sext as boys (65% to 35%, respectively). It’s because young women are more likely to be on the receiving end of controlling, disrespecting or pressuring behavior from young men – and it can be difficult to say “No More” in the face of peer pressure.
Although domestic violence against adult women is down 60% since the passage of the original Violence Against Women Act in 1994, you should also know that young women ages 16-24 are now the most vulnerable when it comes to rape and sexual abuse. In fact, research shows that roughly one in three adolescent girls in the U.S. is a victim of abuse (physical or otherwise) from a dating partner.
If you’d like to know how other kids are handling dating in the digital world, check out a website called “That’s Not Cool”. Talk it out with a friend, parent, teacher, coach or other mentor who you respect. And the National Domestic Violence Hotline has great counselors who know the ropes.