Did you know that February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month? I had no idea until I saw someone talking about it, and I thought it would be more than worthwhile to talk a bit about why having a month of awareness of this topic is important, as well as offer some discussion fodder and a reading list of YA fiction that delves into teen dating violence.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, a 2011 survey of teens found that 9.4% of teens reported having been in a romantic relationship that resulted in them being hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose in the last twelve months. Sit with that a minute: in the last year, almost 10% of teens reported having been in a relationship that involved violence. If we believe that at least that much did not report violence in their relationship — and anyone who went to high school and took one of these surveys knows what they involve — that is a huge and startling statistic.
In addition to that, 1 in 5 females and 1 in 7 males report having been sexually assaulted, raped, physically hurt, or stalked by a romantic partner; those statistics are for those aged 11 to 17.
Twenty percent of women between the ages of 11 and 17 have reported being raped, assaulted, or stalked by a romantic partner and fourteen percent of men between the ages of 11 and 17 have reported being raped, assaulted, or stalked by a romantic partner.
These numbers were reported in a survey separate from the one above, so considered separately and considered together, those numbers are frightening.
Starting a conversation about this topic can be difficult, but I think it’s one that’s important to keep aware of and know the statistics about because it should be informative in working with teens. Whether you’re an educator or a librarian or teen advocate in some capacity (which includes writers for teens, readers who appreciate YA fiction, bloggers, and so forth), being ignorant of what teens experience or are familiar with because of their peers’ experiences can be more harmful than helpful. Fortunately, aside from the statistics that exist, there are excellent resources for building your awareness of teen dating violence, as well as excellent teen novels that tackle this delicate issue in ways that are not only helpful, but can be the door that invites important conversation.
Despite what we can think as adults, teens are aware of these issues and not only are they aware of them, they’re not afraid to talk about them. It’s us as adults who are more fearful to broach the issues for fears we may do or say wrong or — in a worse case scenario — we fear that we might put ideas into “impressionable minds.” Let’s be real though: teens know. Teens aren’t impressionable in that way. What can and does make an impression is being willing to be an advocate and an open conversationalist to, for, and with these teens. That knowledge that you care can change their world.
Last April, I wrote a guide to discussing sex, sexual assault, and rape, so I won’t go too much into that here. But I do want to point to a project being built by Teen Librarian Toolbox, called the Sexual Violence in Young Adult Literature Chat. The ongoing project, which is supplemented by the linked tumblr account, is meant to foster conversation about sexual violence in a manner that helps empower readers and teen advocates in not only their ability to think about this challenging topic, but also to foster conversation with teens themselves.
Become familiar with Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month’s site. This online hub is a space for discussing and advocating for the efforts of promoting and raising awareness of teen dating violence. There are a wealth of resources, including dating abuse helplines and a wealth of public awareness campaigns. Those campaign sites will offer even more great resources and helpful tips for raising your own awareness, as well as for becoming a stronger advocate for teens.
The Teen Dating Violence site is an arm of love is respect, which is another site you should have on your radar. This resource is one that would be especially useful for teen themselves, as it offers a tool defining what dating violence is. Again, the statistics are that roughly 10% of teens reported being in a physically harmful relationship; it’s not always obvious to teens (just like it’s not always obvious to adults!) when a relationship is abusive.
Although I don’t think that the US Department of Health and Human Services site offers the most useful information, I’m linking to it because it does offer tips and help as to cultivating conversations about Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. This is the toolkit for adults to talk about this month and what the purpose behind the campaign is. It offers some downloadable and printable fact sheets that could be valuable in displays, on social media, or on physical bulletin boards.
Dating Violence in YA Fiction
Since I covered sexual violence last spring, I’m focusing this list more specifically on dating violence. All of these are YA titles, and each has some component of relationship violence — and I’m not going to shy away from it: some of these books can be really challenging to read because of that. But I think knowing about them, talking about them, and having them available for teens can be invaluable in fostering important conversations, if not for helping a teen in one of these situations realize what’s going on is not okay.
All descriptions come from WorldCat, and I know this is far from a complete list. Please feel free to add more to this list, especially books where the male main character may be suffering from dating violence. I find that there is often a lacking in stories about relationship violence — verbal, sexual, or physical — of the male being the victim. Which isn’t to say the stories of females being victims aren’t important (they definitely are, and as noted, they are more frequently the victims), but I think it’s just as important to show the other side, too, as it’s often the one that’s talked about far less. Likewise, there’s a dearth of LGBTQ relationships presented.
Since my knowledge is heavier on realistic fiction, that’s reflected, but I am aware dating violence shows up in other genres within YA fiction, as well.
Bad Boy by Dream Jones: Devastated to find herself back in a group home after a peaceful year of living with loving foster parents, a Brooklyn teenager striving to become strong and independent soon falls prey to the dangerous affections of a good looking but shady young man.
Bitter End by Jennifer Brown: When seventeen-year-old Alex starts dating Cole, a new boy at her high school, her two closest friends increasingly mistrust him as the relationship grows more serious.
Breaking Beautiful by Jennifer Shaw Wolf: Allie is overwhelmed when her boyfriend, Trip, dies in a car accident, leaving her scarred and unable to recall what happened that night, but she feels she must uncover the truth, even if it could hurt the people who tried to save her from Trip’s abuse.
Breathing Underwater by Alex Flinn: Sent to counseling for hitting his girlfriend, Caitlin, and ordered to keep a journal, sixteen-year-old Nick recounts his relationship with Caitlin, examines his controlling behavior and anger, and describes living with his abusive father.
But I Love Him by Amanda Grace: Traces, through the course of a year, Ann’s transformation from a happy A-student, track star, and popular senior to a solitary, abused woman whose love for the emotionally-scarred Connor has taken away everything–even herself.
Dark Song by Gail Giles: After her father loses his job and she finds out that her parents have lied to her, fifteen-year-old Ames feels betrayed enough to become involved with a criminal who will stop at nothing to get what he wants.
Dreamland by Sarah Dessen: After her older sister runs away, sixteen-year-old Caitlin decides that she needs to make a major change in her own life and begins an abusive relationship with a boy who is mysterious, brilliant, and dangerous.
Falling For You by Lisa Schroeder: Very good friends, her poetry notebooks, and a mysterious “ninja of nice” give seventeen-year-old Rae the strength to face her mother’s neglect, her stepfather’s increasing abuse, and a new boyfriend’s obsessiveness.
Panic by Sharon Draper: As rehearsals begin for the ballet version of Peter Pan, the teenaged members of an Ohio dance troupe lose their focus when one of their own goes missing. (From description it doesn’t sound like it’s about dating abuse, but that is a storyline among other characters in the book).
Rage: A Love Story by Julie Anne Peters: At the end of high school, Johanna finally begins dating the girl she has loved from afar, but Reeve is as much trouble as she claims to be as she and her twin brother damage Johanna’s self-esteem, friendships, and already precarious relationship with her sister.
Shattered by Sarah N. Harvey: After March shoves her boyfriend and he ends up in a coma, she tries to figure out what it means to have a perfect life.
So Much It Hurts by Monique Polak: A teen actress gets involved with an older director, whose explosive temper and controlling behavior threaten to destroy her life.
Stay by Deb Caletti: In a remote corner of Washington State where she and her father have gone to escape her obsessive boyfriend, Clara meets two brothers who captain a sailboat, a lighthouse keeper with a secret, and an old friend of her father who knows his secrets.
Teenage Love Affair by Ni-Ni Simone: Seventeen-year-old Zsa-Zsa is torn between her current boyfriend who is abusive and her first love, Malachi.
Things Change by Patrick Jones: Sixteen-year-old Johanna, one of the best students in her class, develops a passionate attachment for troubled seventeen-year-old Paul and finds her plans for the future changing in unexpected ways.