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Teen violence: How police can have an impact

Law enforcement officers called to respond to a school for an incident between young people need to be keenly aware of the vertical transmission of domestic violence to teen dating violence

They are young and growing adolescents who want nothing more than to fit in with their peers. They want to be hip, cool, and tuned in to the latest technology. In today’s complex world, they want to be part of the “in crowd” and yet they strive to be individuals. Perhaps, they possess a streak of wildly bright orange colored hair, a touch of bright blue color on their finger and toenails and maybe even some tattoos, body piercings, and other trendy body adornments. While they strive to fit in they also desire to be different. Many of them are smart, and a number of them are afforded unique opportunities that those before them never had the ability to access.

Generally, the youth of today have enhanced exposure to the world around them through academic outlets, social media and a host of other activities which place them in situations that can foster the rapid loss of innocence and the hastened demand for maturity which, in and of themselves, can produce greater pressures in various aspects of these young people’s lives. Wanting to be independent they also want to be part of something. Wanting to be alone, they also want to be together. Wanting to obey, they also want to rebel.

In present times, young people seem to have less time to savor their progression from childhood to adolescence and the expectations placed on them by others along with those they place on themselves are great. Females wear make-up and dress provocatively earlier. They begin dating and are sexually active sooner than the preference of their parents and teachers. Males retain a desire to exhibit their masculinity defined by their ability to conquer and demonstrate sexual prowess. They want to be the magnetic draw for their female counterparts and hope to inspire the awe and admiration of their male peers. The adolescents’ perception of romance, intimacy, sex and love are, oftentimes, colored by the bombardment of various media portrayals.

Varying Backgrounds, Similar Status
Many of these young people reside in well-heeled communities and are a product of loving and healthy family relationships. Others may be products of broken home. Some may have been exposed to domestic violence, drug and alcohol addiction, and other familial dysfunctions. It is not uncommon for these young people to mirror what has been unveiled in their developing years.
For those who have been exposed to domestic violence situations, the vertical transmission of the cycle of violence can reverberate in their youthful dating situations. The elements of power and control that are dynamic components of any domestic violence situation carry over into the dating relationships of these youth. More often than not, the male takes control, dominates the female, and lacks the essential and communication skills vital to any healthy relationship.

Instead of employing effective verbal communication to discuss differing perspectives and resolve differences, violence becomes the immediate and predominant replacement. Similar to adult relationships, victims in teen dating relationships can be either female or male. Pushing, shoving, slapping, throwing one’s partner to the ground, kicking, spitting, punching, pulling hair, strangling, threats, displaying a weapon with the threat to intimidate, harm, or even potentially kill, are not uncommon actions among young people in teen dating relationships. Demeaning comments, name calling, and verbal threats as well as yelling and shouting are complimentary elements of emotional abuse that embrace the physical violence.

Behavior Driven by Hormones & History
Teens, who so desperately want to be accepted as part of the “in-crowd” and who want to prove they can handle themselves without adult intervention will tolerate these violent and abusive relationships. For some, it seems normal because they were raised in an environment where they witnessed a similar pattern of behavior. For others who may have been raised in more functional and healthy environments, they accept the behavior because they begin to believe they did something wrong to deserve it. Furthermore, they don’t want to be looked upon with disapproval by their peers, and they don’t want to disclose the violence by reporting it to school authorities, parents, or law enforcement because they would be ratting out those in their cohesive youth group for which they strive so hard to be a part of and gain acceptance.

As a result, when the first demeaning comment is followed by another, and the first violent action that occurs is levied with additional ones of consistently increased violence, the pattern of dating violence has begun. These young victims, both female and male, endure the emotional abuse, physical violence, and they suffer in silence. For the most part, they tell no one. They don’t want to feel any sense of disapproval, disappointment or disgust by their parents, teachers, or other adults in their lives. Similar to their adult counterparts who share the cycle of violence, they hide their bruises, provide excuses for their tears, and rationalize the behavior of their significant other. They suffer in silence.

The Role of Law Enforcement
It is imperative that the law enforcement community as well as the judiciary be attuned to this disturbing phenomenon. When police are called to respond to a school for an incident between young people, when they are summoned to a home for a 911 hang-up call and discover only young teenagers in the home, and when they see young people shouting in the street as they drive by in their cruisers, they need to pay close attention to the circumstances. The events should not be rapidly dismissed as a tiff between adolescents. Critical questions should be posed, the nature of the event considered, and close attention should be paid to observing any signs of physical injury that may have resulted from violence that should not necessarily be explained away as accidental by the youth involved.

Law enforcement officers can play a key role in detecting teen violence. Those who are deployed as resource officers in the schools or in the community need to be keenly aware of the vertical transmission of domestic violence to teen dating violence. Through their efforts, they can educate young people in both the schools and the community about the warning signs and dangerous effects of teen dating violence as well as the resources available from allied community agencies, Victim/Witness Programs, and other relevant outlets. There should be regular community forums held on the subject of teen dating violence to educate schools, parents, and residents of the community to recognize the signs and symptoms and to know of appropriate intervention methods to help these young people free themselves from abusive and violent relationships early in their lives.

On February 19, 2011, The Honorable Herman C. Dawson of the 7th Judicial Court of Maryland in Prince George’s County hosted a teen-dating violence summit at a local high school. Recognizing the increasing number of cases involving violence in teenage dating relationships, he became proactive in his effort to educate the community through this summit that included various professionals speaking on the topic. His commitment to this cause has only begun, and Judge Dawson plans to continue his efforts with additional community outreach in the future.

Across the nation, it is critical that the issue of teen dating violence be addressed. There must be a concerted and ongoing effort to educate, develop and enhance existing resources, and provide assistance to young victims of teen dating violence who have a chance to be saved from a life that, without attention and immediate intervention, can destroy their young lives in so many ways.

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