Rochester, NY -- A young lady in one of Monroe County's suburbs used to start her high school classes with a disturbing ritual. She would take out her cell phone and snap three pictures of the kids around her. Then she would text them to her boyfriend's phone so he could see which students she was sitting with, and see that none of them were boys.
When (Rochester, NY's) Alternatives for Battered Women CEO Jamie Saunders first told me that story, I thought back to a friend I had in college.
Back then, cell phones were for rich people. The university stationed little free phones around campus so we could call each other's dorm rooms when we were out and about. My friend would stop at one of these phones to "check in" with her boyfriend as she went from class to her work study job, from the gym to the cafeteria, from the computer lab to a friend's place. If she wasn't home to get one of his calls when she was supposed to be, there was trouble. What a nightmare it would be for her today, I thought.
In many ways, things have gotten better for survivors of domestic violence. When Alternatives for Battered Women started 35 years ago, "domestic violence" wasn't even an accepted term and the criminal justice system offered little protection to women abused by their husbands. In 2014, victims have better tools at their disposal. So, unfortunately, do abusers. And so ABW is adjusting its efforts to protect victims in the 21st century, while still pushing the age-old mantra that love is a behavior and that no one deserves abuse.
These days, that means teaching young people that no one deserves a partner who demands embarrassing digital photos or videos to "prove" trust. Or a partner who makes you feel that you can't be separated from your phone because you might not immediately respond to a text. No one deserves a partner who demands access to all your emails and phone messages. Or expects you to answer multiple texts between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m. Or places an app on your phone that lets him monitor your whereabouts. Such "electronic leashing," is becoming more and more common in teenage and adult relationships, according Saunders.
"It's 24/7," she said. "There is no place to hide."
Because February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, she would like to spread the word that domestic abuse is a problem that starts early. Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence, almost triple the national average. Harmful patterns established in the teenage years — for the abusers and the abused — can be very hard to break.
The teenage dating years have always been a time of insecurity and vulnerability. It's a new phenomenon for teens to find themselves faced with demands from dating partners around the clock.
Editors Note: Additional information provided below for SC residents.
The South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault is a statewide organization of 23 domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy programs throughout South Carolina.
If you or someone you know has experienced domestic abuse or sexual assault, help is always available around the clock.