February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (TDVAM), which is a national effort to help raise awareness and educate about dating violence. By providing safe spaces for our young relatives, discussions can be had not only about dating violence but also about traditional values and kinship systems reflective of our tribal communities.
With thoughtful engagement, we hope to see our young people work towards reclaiming our indigenous lifeways and practicing the importance of building and maintaining strong, healthy relationships among peers and across generations. While we acknowledge and appreciate the importance of TDVAM, we hope that meaningful efforts extend beyond February with an on-going commitment to our Native youth that involves the support of the community.
Sadly, we often hear jokes that hickeys and black eyes equate to “love”—but that’s not love, it’s dating violence. As a way to change the narrative, the NIWRC works to address dating violence among Native youth through annual awareness initiatives and projects, such as NativeLove, to provide opportunities for our young people to talk openly about healthy relationships and dating violence including ways to transform our thoughts and actions to restore how we love, honor, and treat one another.
NIWRC’s goal is to cultivate, educate, empower, and mobilize Native youth and amplify their voices to advocate against violence against Native women, youth, and children with the aim of creating positive social change in tribal communities. We are reaching out to ask you to help raise awareness of Teen Dating Violence for Native youth on February 14 by wearing orange to show your support, taking an individual or group photo, and posting it on social media using #TDVAM.
Lucy Simpson (Diné)
Executive Director, NIWRC
What is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month?
In 2005, the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act highlighted teenage dating violence and abuse. Congress declared the first week in February as “National Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Awareness Week,” after national efforts called for the end of dating abuse. In 2010, Congress dedicated the entire month of February to teen dating violence awareness and prevention.
What is Dating Violence?
Dating violence is abusive, hurtful or controlling behavior that takes place in a romantic relationship. Dating violence is defined when a dating partner uses a pattern of abusive behavior toward their partner to gain power and control over them.
Dating violence can include one or more types of abuse, such as:
- Physical abuse: pushes, slaps, punches, hits or strangles you.
- Emotional abuse: criticizes or call you hurtful names or keeps you from seeing family or friends.
- Sexual abuse: pressures you to have sex or forces you into sexual activities without your consent.
- Digital abuse: constantly calls, texts or DMs you to find out where you are or who you’re with.
- Cultural/Spiritual abuse: Prevents you from honoring or practicing your spiritual or tribal beliefs.
- Financial abuse: Steals money from you, keeps you from working and/or sabotages your employment, and/or controls the money in the relationship.
These abusive behaviors are not part of a healthy, caring relationship. Abuse is not traditional. If you are being abused by someone you’re dating, you may find yourself feeling scared, anxious, depressed, guilty or ashamed about what’s happening. What’s important to remember is that no one has the right to hurt or abuse you in any way.
Signs of dating violence:
- Acts extremely jealous or possessive of you
- Follows you home or to school, or shows up wherever you are unannounced
- Tells you who you can or cannot be friends with
- Criticizes your dreams, goals or friends
- Explodes in anger toward you or acts aggressively when they’re upset
- Kisses, grabs or touches your body without your permission
- Demands that you send them sexually explicit photos or videos
- Forces you to have sex or do sexual things
- Tells you what to wear or how to dress
- Threatens to hurt themselves or commit suicide if you don’t do what they want
If you’re being abused:
- You might think it’s your fault, but it is not. Dating violence is never okay. You deserve to feel safe in your relationship.
- You may feel anxious, depressed, guilty or ashamed about what’s happening. However, no one has the right to hurt you.
- Think of ways to stay safe when you’re with your abusive partner. Practice leaving school or home safely, telling family or friends where you will be at all times, or decide who to call or where you can go if you feel unsafe.
- Talk to someone – a parent, an uncle or auntie, a cousin or friend. You can also talk to a teacher, a coach or counselor at school, but know that some adults are mandated reporters, meaning they are legally required to report abuse or neglect to police or child protective services.
- If you’re being hurt by someone you’re dating and want to talk to someone anonymously, call the StrongHearts Native Helpline at 1-844-7NATIVE (762-8483) for help.
- If it’s an emergency, call 911 or local police for help.
If a friend or relative is being abused:
- Create a safe space and tell them you’re concerned about their safety.
- Be a good relative and listen to their story when they’re ready to share.
- Ask how you can help them.
- Offer support and encourage your friend’s strength and courage.
- Share resources available online or in your community.
- Learn about dating violence and the signs of relationship abuse.
- Avoid confronting the abusive person hurting your loved one. It can escalate the situation and put your relative in danger.
- If a friend or relative is being hurt by an intimate partner dating, call the StrongHearts Native Helpline at 1-844-7NATIVE (762-8483) for help.
How Can I Get Involved?
There are a number of ways to get involved, including encouraging your school, community-based organizations, church, tribal leaders, parents, and peers to join together to raise awareness about dating violence throughout your community. Other activities may include raising awareness and sharing resources on social media, writing a letter in a school or community newspaper, and encouraging your school administration, teachers and peers to wear orange during the month of February, such as February 14th for Teen Dating Violence Awareness Day.
Because youth form the heart of our cultural survival as Native peoples, we believe that our youth have the power and energy to help create positive change in their communities.
- Download and share NIWRC dating violence awareness postcards on social media (see above).
- Find statistics about dating violence, visit NIWRC’s NativeLove project.
- Watch NativeLoveIs videos focused on raising awareness about violence against Native women and empowering Native people to speak out about traditional cultural values that honor and respect Native women.
- If you or someone you know if experiencing dating violence, call the StrongHearts Native Helpline at 1-844-7NATIVE (762-8483) for help.
- Organize a school or community event. Explore the NativeLoveIs Online Toolkit for Youth and Toolkit for Educators Coaches and Mentors to items to consider in raising awareness about teen dating violence in your school or community.
- Explore NIWRC’S Special Collection for Native American Teens, developed to provide resources to create awareness and promote important discussions about teen dating violence with Native youth.
- Download “Combating Trafficking: Native Youth Toolkit on Human Trafficking” by Administration for Native Americans, Administration for Children & Families Office of Trafficking in Persons and Department of Health and Human Services.
- View “Signs of Teen Dating Violence” on TeenDVMonth.org
- Explore 2020 Teen DVAM Activities compiled by ACF’s Family and Youth Services Bureau, Family Violence Prevention and Services Program.
About the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center
The National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, Inc. (NIWRC) is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to restoring the sovereignty of Native nations and safeguarding Native women and their children. The NIWRC supports culturally grounded, grassroots advocacy and provides national leadership to ending gender-based violence in indigenous communities through the development of educational materials and programs, direct technical assistance and the development of local and national policy that builds the capacity of Indigenous communities and strengthens the exercise of tribal sovereignty. www.niwrc.org