Teen dating violence in on the rise across the country, with many victims too afraid to tell their parents, school administrators, or the police the abuse is taking place. (Courtesy photo)

In the years since singer Tina Turner detailed the persistent physical abuse she endured by her then-husband, Ike, public awareness of domestic violence has led to the creation of battered women’s shelters, outreach programs for survivors of physical and sexual trauma, and intervention services to offer alternatives to physical violence. Still, among urban teens, the prevalence of dating and domestic violence has reached new heights, sparking renewed interests in raising awareness.

February was National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, but for those experiencing abuse, the message never loses potency. A Center for Disease Control and Prevention survey from 2011 found that nationwide 23 percent of females and 14 percent of males experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner and that their first experiences with abuse began between the ages of 11 and 17. Moreover, approximately 10 percent of high school students reported physical victimization as well as sexual victimization from a dating partner in the 12 months before they were surveyed.

Judge Herman C. Dawson, coordinating judge for juvenile causes in the Circuit Court of Prince George’s County, hosted the Prince George’s Teen Domestic Violence Summit, Feb. 20, at the Charles Herbert Flowers High School, calling the event an extension of his work for the juvenile justice system. “I see a lot of kids here and we see a lot of parents here. And what I would like to say to parents is many times you all have no idea what is going on with the young folks,” he told the crowd gathered at the summit. “We see it many times in court. We see it in court because our elected State’s Attorney, Ms. Alsobrooks, files cases involving all sorts of offenses that young folks are involved in. If we could stop a lot of these incidents, when the young folks are young, we could probably prevent a lot of this from happening as we get older.”

Drew Hewitt joined other teens at the summit to determine how best to cope with the physical violence he experienced at the hands of his ex-girlfriend. For Hewitt, the typical awareness efforts tend to fall short of examining abuse at the hands of females, despite the growing issue of girl-boy dating violence. “I was reared not to hit girls, even if they are being aggressive and agitated. But walking away from a situation, got me attacked from behind,” Hewitt told the AFRO. “We have both moved on now, but I still feel some kind of way about it and when I shared what happened with friends, they almost made me regret that I had not put my hands on her.”

Panelists advised parents repeatedly to become more engaged with their teens so that they are able to pick up on tale-tell signs of abuse such as depression or isolation that the child is unable to verbalize. As with the Hewitt case, neither person’s parents were aware of the incident until it was over and the school was never notified even though it happened as the school day ended.

Alsobrooks charged teens with pushing to end domestic violence among their peers by learning to handle anger and disappointment in constructive ways. “You are the generation who has the power to end it, to do something about it, to step up and say, ‘not in our generation. It will stop right here,’ because it is generational. It’s cyclical. It goes from one generation to the next, and guess what? It’s time for it to stop,” she said. “I believe the young people in our community will be the generation to step forward, and to live differently, and to make different choices.”