Violence is a Cycle: We Must Reauthorize VAWA!

By John Roach, Break the Cycle and student at Georgetown University

Since VAWA was first passed in 1994, there have been great strides towards stopping violence in the US.  States have passed more than 600 laws to combat the violence, the rate of non-fatal intimate violence against women has decreased drastically, and more victims report abuse to the police – in fact, there has been up to a 51% increase in reporting by women.  Clearly, VAWA has done wonders for women everywhere.

However, eighteen years later, domestic violence, sexual violence, dating violence, and stalking continue to run rampant among youth in the United States.  One needs only to look at the statistics to see the problem:  One quarter of High School girls have been the victims of physical or sexual abuse or date rape.  80% of female victims of sexual assault experience their first rape before age twenty five; 42% before age eighteen.  What resources are available for these youth?  Well, despite 43% of victims reporting that abuse happened on school grounds, educators and administrative staff are often untrained at recognition and intervention – possibly lending to the fact that 2/3 of young victims never even report being abused.

The lack of help for these young victims takes a legitimate toll. Victims of dating violence or sexual coercion are 3 times more likely to score mostly D’s and F’s in school than A’s. And there’s more. Young victims of intimate partner violence are three times more likely to suffer from depression, three times more likely to display disordered eating behaviors, four times more likely to contemplate suicide, thirteen times more likely to abuse alcohol, and 26 times more likely to abuse illegal and prescription drugs.

These problems are real, and yet the resources available to these young people are few and far between.  Victim service providers who primarily serve adults lack resources to deal with the specific needs of younger victims, leading to fewer youth seeking help. It is clear that we must find more effective ways to address teen and young adult domestic violence, sexual violence, dating violence and stalking.  It is time to hear these stories and help these youth.

If authorized, the new VAWA (S. 1925) will help to accomplish this.  It would consolidate two programs already in place – Services to Advocate for and Respond to Youth (STARY) and Supporting Teens through Education and Protection (STEP) – to create an all-encompassing approach to violence prevention, making schools safer and relevant services available.  STARY grants allow for organizations to establish youth-focused services for sexual and dating violence, while the STEP program will help schools work collaboratively with victim service providers and pertinent organizations to ensure that all young people have access to the resources they need.  Furthermore, the new VAWA also provides services for those who are put at risk by exposure to violence at a young age. Approximately 15.5 million children are exposed to domestic violence each year.  Physical abuse during childhood increases both the risk of future victimization and perpetuation of abuse – it must be addressed directly, but most children today do not have access to these services. If reauthorized, VAWA will help establish mental health services for these children, who have typically been able to overcome their trauma when placed under such programs.  By putting necessary focus on violence among youth, VAWA can help America’s suffering young victims and prevent future suffering.

There is no denying that this is a dire issue that faces America’s youth.  But there is also no denying that something can, and should, be done about it.  What can you do?  Join the effort to prevent violence in youth culture.  Spread the word: share your story on Facebook and like this page for pertinent information and events, trend on Twitter (using the hashtag #ReauthorizeVAWA), or pursue other social media efforts.  Email Congress and tell them how much VAWA means to you.  Write to Senators who are not yet Co-Sponsors of S.1925 and ask for their support. We must be sure that Congress hears our voices.  Violence is a cycle – 35% of women who are raped as minors will be raped again as adults.  We must prevent violence before it starts.  We must reauthorize VAWA!

February is National Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Awareness Month

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

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