By Claire Bernstein, JCADA Intern
One in three teens is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal abuse from their boyfriend or girlfriend. Take a look at your Facebook and scroll through your friends list. Every third person adds up quickly.
We believe that our friends would talk to us if s/he were in trouble, but statistics say otherwise. Only 33% of teens who have been in an abusive relationship have ever told anyone. Many victims of dating abuse keep quiet and stay in an abusive relationship because they are scared, anxious, embarrassed, or ashamed. A victim may not talk to a friend or an adult because they may be worried that their partner will retaliate or hurt them if they tell someone about the abuse. If our friend has not asked for our help, we may try to convince ourselves that the situation is not that bad. But, we cannot assume that our friends will always talk to us or admit to us that their relationship is an unhealthy one.
It can be tough to speak up, and it is even harder when people are making jokes about dating abuse. When people joke about dating violence, they are minimizing the seriousness of the issue and disrespecting victims of abuse. When you see a friend or an acquaintance in an unhealthy relationship or you hear someone make a joke about dating violence, you are faced with the choice to help or ignore it. We often do not know how to respond when a friend makes jokes or inappropriate comments about abuse. It can be awkward or uncomfortable for us to tell our friend that we do not approve of their comments.
If you think your friend is in an unhealthy relationship or you hear someone joking about dating violence and you want to take action, here are a number of positive ways you can using the three Ds:
- Directly talk to your friend and tell them that you are concerned.
- Let your friend know that you do not approve of their jokes about dating violence. You can tell them “that’s not cool” or “don’t say stuff like that.”
- Do not pressure your friend to break up with their partner.
- Tell your friend that you are there for them and are willing to talk to a trusted adult with them.
- Use “I” statements when talking to your friend to keep them from getting defensive: “I feel concerned about your safety” “I get upset when I hear you joke about dating violence”.
- In a potentially dangerous or violent situation, try to distract your friend or the abuser in order to prevent the situation from escalating. For example, if you are at school and your friend’s boyfriend is starting to get angry and yell at her in the hallway, ask her to go to the bathroom with you so she can get out of the situation. Or, you can ask one of the boyfriend’s friends to try and distract him.
- Before you use the distract method, make sure it is safe for you to get involved.
- Talk to another friend or a trusted adult about your concerns.
- Ask a coach, teacher, counselor, or parent for their advice about the situation. For example, if you see something at school, and you go to talk to a teacher: “I am worried about my friend over there. Whenever his girlfriend gets upset, she starts to grab or push him. Can you please help?”
- Ask one of your friends if they are comfortable saying something to the person who made an inappropriate joke.
- Using one of the delegate actions above is a great strategy if you are shy or uncomfortable directly talking directly to your friend about dating abuse.