Survey Says: Start Early!

By: Bethany Pombar, Prevention Specialist, Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

This week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new report on intimate partner violence analyzing data from the groundbreaking 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS). With this new report comes some support for what advocates already knew- victims’ first experience of violence at the hands of a partner happens early.   The survey tells us:

  • Among those who ever experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, more than 22% of female victims and 15% of male victims experienced some form of intimate partner violence for the first time between the ages of 11 and 17 years.
  • Nearly half of female victims (47%) and more than one-third of male victims (39%) were between 18 and 24 years of age when they first experienced violence by an intimate partner.·

Combining these two statistics, we see that 69% of female victims and 54% of male victims had already experienced abuse at the hands of an intimate partner by the time they are 24 years old.  

We have got to start talking to our youth and children earlier about how to build healthy and supportive relationships that rest on foundations of respect and non-violence. This can’t just focus on telling youth where to go when they are in trouble; we need reach deeper than that. We have to talk about consent in sexual relationships in a way that moves beyond just asking for a yes. We need to also be talking about what the asker’s role is in making it safe to say no, and giving youth tools for dealing with rejection in healthy ways that do not turn to anger or pressure towards the rejecter.

And when we say earlier, we mean BEFORE their first dating relationship.  We have to give youth the tools and skills we want them to use to grow healthy relationship behaviors before they develop other patterns that become harder to change.  We can start as early as birth by modeling these behaviors ourselves and by framing relationship skills in the context of friendships. We can’t wait until our youth are already dating to start talking to them about what supportive relationships look like.

Advocates from the 14 member programs of the Vermont Network are going into schools across the state to talk with children and youth about these issues. Many also offer workshops for parents and teachers to enhance adults’ ability to support children and youth in developing relationship skills. Reach out and find what is happening in your area or invite an advocate to come to your school/ church/ workplace to talk about supporting healthy relationships.  And check out our Relationship Status booklet in the resource section of our blog!