In February, many month-long observances have been created to bring attention to issues and inequities faced past and present by marginalised groups. Two examples of this include Aboriginal Storytelling Month, celebrated in Saskatchewan, and Black History Month which is celebrated across North America. These observances make information, experiences, art, music, and other resources readily available so that individuals, educational institutions, and other community institutions can listen, learn, and grow.
A lesser known focus in February is “Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.” Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month is aimed at the prevention and awareness of adolescent dating violence. It was first legislated in the United States in 2016 when then President, Barack Obama, recognized February as the month in which it should be observed. His announcement was made less than a year after the United States’ Center for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a youth behavioural survey and found that among students participating in dating, 21% of female students and 10% of male students from a cross-sectional sample of 9000 reported experiencing some form of teen dating violence during the 12 months prior to the survey.
Although first recognized on a national level in the United States, the issue of adolescent dating violence is also a problem experienced by Canadian youth. Initially thought by most to only be prevalent amongst adults, it would shock many Canadians to know dating violence occurs amongst adolescents at similar rates. Although intimate partner violence among adults often results in more injuries and more police-reported disturbances, victimisation research has consistently shown that simply being of a younger age (15-24) is a major risk factor associated with being a victim of violent crime; and that 43% of all dating violence occurs in this 15-24 age range. Young women specifically face the brunt of this violence, and have been found to be killed at nearly 3x the rate for all female victims of domestic homicide.
Despite this, most programs to help those who have been negatively impacted by intimate partner violence are geared solely towards adults. This isn’t just worrying because of the prevalence of dating violence amongst adolescents, but because numerous studies have suggested that without intervention, youth using violence in their intimate relationships are likely to continue to use violence in their adult relationships. Additionally, violence taking place in adolescence occurs during a critical period in the developmental stages of individuals pre-adulthood.
To highlight this as a national issue, in 2021, a study reported Canada’s first nationally representative data on the topic of adolescent dating violence. From this survey it was revealed that one-in-three Canadian youth experience adolescent dating violence. In this study, adolescent dating violence was found to be highly correlated with social marginalisation. Thus, it was stated in the survey’s results that it is critical for prevention and interventional programming for all adolescents to focus on the root causes of violence, rather than addressing the displayed behaviours exclusively. These socially marginalised groups include those youth suffering from mental health issues, those coming from families with a lower socio-economic status, as well as racialized youth. This study extends to youth, the unfortunate trend recently shown by Loanna Heidinger that Indigenous women disproportionately have the highest rates of intimate partner violence in Canada.
Unlike adults however, youth have a more difficult job identifying violence due to lacking knowledge of appropriate and safe responses to combatting the harmful situations they find themselves in. This month during “Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month”, the CTRC would like to highlight some programs that can support youth who are living through or have previously experienced the traumatic event of violence in their relationships.