Friday, April 24, 2009

Why Don’t They Just Get Out?

At Break the Cycle we get lots of emails from teens who want to know if their relationship is unhealthy and what they can do if it is. But lately, we’ve also been getting emails asking why people in abusive relationships don’t just get out. If the situation is so bad, why do they stay with the person? Simple question, right? Well the answer isn’t so. The truth is that ending an abusive relationship is much harder than just saying it’s over and walking away. There are MANY reasons why a person in an abusive situation will remain in the relationship…

Fear – The victim may be afraid of what may happen if they decide to leave the relationship. In fact, ending an abusive relationship can be a very dangerous time for a victim. If they’ve been threatened in the past either by their partner, his/her family or friends, they won’t feel safe leaving. This can include a fear of being “outed” if they’re secretly in a same-sex relationship.

Embarrassment – Some people are not willing to admit that they’re relationship is abusive. Recognizing and telling someone that one’s own relationship is unhealthy and that a partner is being hurtful is not an easy thing to do. This can be especially true for male victims.

Low self-esteem – People go through many different things in life, good and bad. And if they find themselves in an abusive relationship where they are constantly put down and blamed for things, after a while they may begin to believe it’s true and that they deserve the abuse.

Believing abuse is normal – If a person grew up in an environment where there was always abuse, especially domestic abuse between their parents, they may not know what a healthy relationship looks like, which means they likely don’t realize there is something wrong with their own relationship. And unfortunately, no one really talks about what healthy and unhealthy relationships look like. It’s hard to correct any misperceptions we may carry if all we have to model our behaviors after is whatever is happening at home.

Pregnancy or parenting – If there’s a baby in the picture the person may feel pressure to raise their baby with both parents together, even if that means enduring the abuse. They may also feel scared that their abusive partner will try to harm the child or take the child away if they leave.

Love – This can be one of the toughest. Think about it. Love is a strong emotion. If the person you love tells you they will change, of course you’ll want that to be true. So you stay, hoping that change will happen and that you will be happy. It’s hard to blame someone for loving, believing and hoping.

So as you can see, for these reasons (and many others!) walking away from an abusive relationship is not easy. So if you know someone or hear of someone who may be involved in an unhealthy relationship, don’t make them feel worse than they probably already do. Understand that their situation is unique and likely complicated. Offer to find them help. And above all give them your support. Visit to find out what you can do.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Get Involved in Teen Dating Violence Prevention!

Lately, I’ve been talking to a lot of adults about how to get teens involved in the movement to end teen dating violence. Many adults believe that teenagers really don’t care or they just aren’t motivated enough to stand up and be heard on this issue. Well, I don’t think that’s true at all.

I have met many students who thought that dating violence was wrong and really wanted to help make a difference in their schools and communities. What was the number one thing stopping them? . . . the fact that they didn’t know very much about dating violence until I came to talk to them about it. I think that if more teenagers knew about dating violence and just how prevalent it is among their peers, more of them would want to do something about it. Just think . . . if one in three teens will experience some form of dating violence in their lives, how many people would that be at your school? I bet it’s a big number. Now think about your town or city. Wow, right? So what can you do?

One of the things that I tell adults who want to work with teens is that they have to meet young people on their turf. And who do you think is going to tell adults how to talk to teenagers? That’s right . . . YOU! Don’t wait for an adult to make the first move. Go to them with your ideas. Besides, sometimes teens need adults to get them access to things that can be difficult to get on their own, like video equipment or the use of a building or public space and the list goes on. In fact, I have worked with quite a few groups of students who did awesome class projects about dating violence. Some of them made short documentaries, performed skits and others conducted interviews with their classmates and showed the results to the student body at an assembly. These teens did something. So can you!

If you really want to make your voice heard, you CAN do something to raise awareness about teen dating violence and its devastating effects. For more ideas on how to get started, visit


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Teen Dating Violence State Report Cards | New Jersey

So, as many of you may know, Break the Cycle has released its 2009 teen dating violence state report cards. If you don’t know, this report gives every state a grade based on the protection that its state laws give to teen victims of dating violence. If you want to see exactly what factors were considered when grading states – click on this link and go to page 6.

I am from New Jersey, so today I am going to look at how it scored – and why. You can follow this link to see the full report for New Jersey. If you open the link – you will see that New Jersey got a “C” – that might be average in school but it means that the law definitely needs improvement when teens’ safety is at risk.

Why did New Jersey get a C? Let’s look at one of the reasons: You can get a restraining order without parental involvement if you are under 18 (a good thing). However, it seems that in New Jersey you can only get a restraining order against someone who is 18 years old or over – this makes it almost impossible for someone to protect themselves against an abuser if he/she is under 18, and if the victim is under 18 it’s pretty likely that the person they were dating was too. It’s unsettling to think that a minor can only protect themselves against adults and not against other minors, when a minor can be just as dangerous as an adult. New Jersey, let’s change this!

I encourage you to look at your state’s grade and reflect on what it means, and what it would mean if you or someone you knew needed to get a restraining order and couldn’t. Share your state’s report card with everyone you know. Let’s make sure everyone gets the protection that they deserve!