Hawaiʻi teenagers are experiencing physical and sexual abuse in dating relationships at rates higher than the national average. That’s according to a survey conducted by the state in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HPR’s Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi reports on what this looks like and what is being done to prevent it.
One in six middle school students in Hawaiʻi reported being physically abused by their date. The number is slightly higher for reports ofsexual abuse, according to the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. But violence is often preceded by other forms of abuse says Nanci Kreidman, CEO of the Domestic Violence Action Center.
“The emotional abuse, the verbal abuse, the intimidation, the isolation…I don’t think we do a good job in helping people understand the range of healthy relationships and the red flags or the warning signs of a less healthy relationship or an unhealthy relationship,” says Kreidman.
The adolescent years are formative ones for the way individuals approach relationships as adults.
“There is no blueprint for young people to look at and often our role models,” says Krediman, “Whether they be celebrities or parents, may or may not be demonstrating the best examples of healthy relationships. So I, I think we could be doing a better job.”
Abuseat this age increases the future risk of substance abuse, poor academic performance, suicide attempts, and violence in future relationships. But it can be prevented.
“I think it’s really about empowering ouryouthtorecognize what they deserve,” says Keliʻi Beyer. He does educational outreach and prevention for the Centerʻs Teen Alert Program.
“I think a lot of times adults perceive youth relationships as just kind of like puppy love or it’s not going to last or ‘you’ll know when you get to be my age what it really means to be in a relationship’ and I feel like that does our youth a disservice,” says Beyer.
Over the past 13 years, Beyer has seen a heightened awareness amongst Hawaiʻi teens as to the complexities of abuse.
“It’s really about one person trying to control or take away their partner’s power,” says Beyer, “And that can happen though all kinds of things like limiting who they spend their time with, controlling what they wear, demanding that they unfriend people.”
Beyer is however concerned with technology. He says the proliferation of smart phones and social media sites is really opening the door to unhealthy relationship behaviors.
“They feel like it’s their right to know who their partner’s texting or who they’re friends with on social media. And if they feel jealous then sometimes they may ask their partner to stop being friends with some people or think it’s their right to demand their password,” says Beyer, “Really, it just kind of comes down to this lack of trust and sometimes this technology makes it easier for people to kind of like make assumptions about what is happening even if it’s not true.”
The Teen Alert Program has worked with nearly 78,000 Hawaiʻi teens since it began in 2002. Kreidman says prevention is about naming things – giving teens the vocabulary for different forms of abuse but also the permission to decide what they deserve.