#TeenDVMonth: The Young Activists Taking Action Against Domestic Violence

Teen dating can be dangerous and abusive (Jake Stimpson / Flickr)

Erin McKelle

Erin McKelle

Erin McKelle is a writer and activist, studying women and gender studies at Ohio University. Follow her on Twitter at @ErinMcKelle. This post was originally published on the Scenarios USA website and is republished here with permission.

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, which was created to expand the cultural consciousness around violence in teen relationships, which is sadly all too common of a reality for many young people. In fact, one in three teens in the US will experience physical, emotional, sexual, or verbal abuse from a dating partner before they turn 18.

This epidemic of violence is disproportionately high compared to other rates of youth violence, so why aren’t we talking about it more? For one, many parents of teens may not even realize their children were in or are in abusive relationships, as 81% either don’t think teen dating violence is an issue or don’t know that it is. For another, there is a lot of misunderstanding surrounding the seriousness of abusive relationships for young people, as many assume that young people’s relationships are nothing more than child’s play and couldn’t possibly yield the real-life consequences of adult relationships. Looking at effects for a moment, however, violent teen relationships make it much more likely that the victim will develop an eating disorder, engage in substance abuse, become involved in more abusive relationships, and commit suicide. Also, there’s a lot of stigma that exists around abusive relationships, which causes many young people to live in silence.

Fortunately, there are young activists working to raise awareness and address the problem of teen dating violence head on. I think it’s particularly powerful to see young people working to initiate change around this issue, as this is something that directly affects them.

Fortunately, there are young activists working to raise awareness and address the problem of teen dating violence head on. I think it’s particularly powerful to see young people working to initiate change around this issue, as this is something that directly affects them and perhaps involves different needs than those of adults in these kinds of abusive relationships. In that spirit, let’s take a look at a few young activists whose work on teen dating violence deserves to be recognized.

First, let’s look at the work of young actress Debby Ryan, who is most well known for her role on Disney Channel shows like "The Suite Life On Deck" and "Jessie". After experiencing an abusive friendship, Ryan has become an anti-domestic violence activist. “The time I decided to get out wasn’t too late, but it was really, really late in the game. I’m very fortunate because I had people help me get this person out of my life, out of my house—like physically lock the door,” she told Teen Vogue in an interview about her experience.

Instead of living in silence, Ryan has become the face of Mary Kay’s Don’t Look Away campaign and has worked with teen dating violence organization Love Is Respect. As a part of her campaign, Ryan decided to create a social media challenge to raise even more awareness,#dontlookaway, asking teens to illustrate healthy relationships and friendships with their friends in Instagram photos using the hashtag.

When asked to summarize the work she’s doing with Don’t Look Away, she emphasized the importance of not turning a blind eye. ”If I’m summarizing this entire thing that Mary Kay and I are [doing], it’s don’t look away from abuse,” says Ryan.

Next, let’s look to a national organization. The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence is highlighting the work of young activists this year as part of their campaign for Teen Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which will include a radio interview with young activists and a Twitter chat for youth leaders in the movement. The radio interview on Blog Talk Radio will feature a conversation with young leaders working in various capacities in anti-domestic violence organizations, sharing their experiences and insight. You can listen to their conversation on February 18th from 4-4:30pm EST on Blog Talk Radio. In addition, their Twitter chat “Empowered Youth on the Margins- Activism In Action,” will feature youth-led social justice initiatives that work at the intersections of domestic violence and oppression. You can join the chat on February 29th at 7pm EST, using the hashtag #YouthLeaders.

Sex, Etc. is another organization empowering young leaders to work to end teen domestic violence by publishing writing by young people about healthy and abusive relationships online and in print. For example, 16-year-old Cynthia Lam wrote a piece on healthy behaviors in romantic relationships. Sex, Etc. is an especially dynamic platform because the information is written by teens, for teens.

Another amazing teen-led campaign is #TheLoveCulture, which is an on-going project that focuses on giving young women a voice in creating and maintaining healthy relationships. The campaign includes Twitter chats, opportunities to run a Tumblr blog, regular features in Miss Heard Magazine about dating violence. Over 900 women have participated in the campaign, which deserves a huge shout out for empowering teen girls.

Finally, let’s take a look at some of the work teens have done as a part of Break The Cycle, a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to working to end teen dating and intimate partner violence. This PSA is one example of their work, featuring student survivors from Lehman High School in the Bronx speaking out to raise awareness. They also ran a contest a couple of years ago called “Let Your Heart Rule,“ where young activists created short PSA’s to raise awareness about teen dating violence.

It’s so amazing to see the work of young people who feel empowered to take action against domestic violence. What teen activists or groups working to end teen dating violence are you inspired by? Share your thoughts and resources using the hashtag #TeenDVmonth on social media.

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#TeenDVMonth: The Young Activists Taking Action Against Domestic Violence


Scenarios USA is a nonprofit that uses writing and film to foster youth leadership, advocacy, and self-expression in students across the country, with a focus on marginalized communities. Teens who win Scenarios' writing contests see their stories get translated into movies by professional filmmakers. These movies are viewed by up to 20 million people every year.

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