From ALSO’s storefront offices on Chicago’s northwest side, staff regularly engage with youth through their work to prevent gang violence in this largely Puerto Rican neighborhood. By paying careful attention to the pervasiveness of abuse in intimate relationships among local youth, and noting the limited community-based options providing them with support, ALSO decided to take action.
During the summer of 2009, in an attempt to better understand teens’ experiences with dating violence, ALSO engaged a core group of young men and women, ages 17-20, to explore the problem through a small pilot project. After an initial domestic violence training and continued support from domestic violence victim advocates, these youth created and conducted 100 surveys, facilitated a series of focus groups, and conducted targeted one-on-one interviews to frame the issues of dating violence in the voices of youth in their community. They also captured their process on film.
Below is a description of some lessons we learned and our next steps.
What Teens Learned
Survey Results ( N = 100; Males = 48, Females = 52)
- Over 50% of the 100 teens surveyed did not know dating violence includes physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.
- Between the ages of 15 and 16, the likelihood of both female and male respondents reporting an experience of being a victim of physical, emotional, and sexual violence doubled.
- Over 60% of teens surveyed reported witnessing violence at home or in the community.
- Perpetration of physical violence (pushing, shaking, kicking, slapping) was reported by over 50% of both male and female respondents.
- About one-third of teens surveyed have more than one partner at a time. Of those that do, 25% believe having more than one partner leads to violence.
- Teens believe that alcohol and drugs play a role in teen dating violence over half of the time.
Focus Group Results
Through a series of female-only, male-only and mixed gender focus groups, teens uncovered the following findings, which were consistent across all groups:
1. Teens in this community do not "date" in the traditional sense of the word. Instead they engage in committed and uncommitted relationships, sometimes simultaneously, that are best characterized by the expectation and type of sexual activity and the presence or absence of emotional connections.
2. A commonly understood hierarchy of relationships exists among these teens, and almost all relationship types are defined in terms of the females’ role in the relationship.
3. Each relationship type contains its own unique risks. Focus group respondents reported, for example, that the secretive relationships were more at risk for physical violence than publicly acknowledged relationships.
4. The media sends critical messages to teens about intimate partner relationships. Focus group respondents frequently referenced music lyrics and music video images when describing the above mentioned relationship types and norms.
What ALSO Learned
Credibility is paramount (Youth Led Process). In order to effectively meet the safety needs of teens, work to prevent intimate partner violence must be structured in their voices, defined in their terms, and led by them. A core group of teen leaders trained in the dynamics of domestic violence can more effectively reach other youth than many adults. However, trusted adult allies must be present to provide structure, support, education and accountability.
Diversity is key. The core group of teen leaders must contain both males and females and must represent the targeted population in the community. The group must also include popular opinion leaders in the school or community (which may not be the traditional leaders as seen by adults) and should include, when possible, those who have witnessed or experienced intimate partner violence.
To be it, you have to see it. Adult allies must model power sharing and healthy relationships to provide teens with a positive frame. Understanding violence and spotting red flags is not enough. Teens routinely requested more information on how to engage in healthy relationships.
Location, location, location. Teens reported that having resources right in their neighborhood makes a huge difference in their decision and ability to access services.
Phase two of this pilot project involves working the core group of teen leaders to develop and/or adapt culturally relevant community-based and school-based prevention and intervention programs. Through continued work with our local domestic violence provider, the public schools, and other key community groups, we intend to build on the youth led model that we have created to educate youth about dating violence and keep them safe.