How Black Communities Are Addressing Teen Dating Violence

Black teens are at a higher risk for relationship violence and less likely to receive support. Parental involvement combined with Black-led initiatives can help reverse this disparity.

Mother talking with teenage daughters on sofa
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The National Domestic Violence Hotline defines domestic violence as "a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship." When it occurs specifically in teen relationships, it's called Teen Dating Violence. Discussions of violence focus on physical abuse, but advocates are clear teen dating violence can show up in physical, sexual, and psychological ways or include stalking.

Black and Indigenous women experience domestic violence at higher rates than other women. Children witness this violence, directly and indirectly, and it leaves them at risk for mirroring those negative relationship patterns. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teens experiencing these unhealthy relationship dynamics are also more likely to deal with mental health concerns like anxiety and depression, use substances like tobacco, drugs and alcohol, become physically violent or bully other students, and think about suicide.

Black Youth Face Higher Risks For Teen Dating Violence

Black women, girls, and gender expansive youth are not often seen as victims of violence. Research says Black women aged 18-19 not only consistently report high rates of teen dating violence but racialized gender expectations deter them from seeking help. Stereotypes like "the superwoman" or "strong Black woman," leaves Black women under the pressure to be strong and not seek support, also increasing their risk for dating violence. This also leaves Black trans and nonbinary youth vulnerable to a specific erasure.

Erlanger Turner, Ph.D. licensed psychologist and founder of Therapy for Black Kids, notes while all Black youth need reminders that they deserve to be treated with love and kindness, parents of Black queer and trans kids have additional concerns. "It is also important that parents of Black queer and trans kids have conversations about sexual intimidation or threats as forms of intimate partner violence or domestic abuse," he says. He also notes parents should teach youth to see attempts to "out them", refusal to use their pronouns, or suggestions that their gender identity is invalid as emotionally abusive behavior. "Those are unacceptable behaviors, and they should remove themselves from relationships that do not value them for who they are."

Black-Led Efforts To Address Teen Dating Violence

Black youth might also feel less comfortable reaching out for support, since it often involves reaching out to police or law enforcement.

And though there are general resources like the National Domestic Violence Hotline, targeted efforts to combat domestic violence and teen dating violence have the potential to meet Black youth where they are.

The Black Girl Freedom Fund is one of a growing list of targeted efforts working to reduce the impact of structural and interpersonal violence on Black Girls, femmes and gender-expansive youth. The community can engage with the organization by observing Black Girl Freedom Week, which is taking place for the second time this year, and includes conversation on various aspects of culture and leadership with involvement of many guests and speakers including Rashida Jones, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Sanaa Lathan.

Promoting Adolescent Sexual Health and Safety (PASS), is a community-led program that educates and trains youth and adults in sexual health and safety with involvement from the Urban Institutiue, the DC Housing Authority, and organizations from the Benning Terrace Development. Through the initiative, families have the opportunity to engage with culturally-relevant resources on sexuality, learn about the importance of access to health care services, and acceptable behaviors in relationships.

The National Coalition of 100 Black Women is another example of national Black-led efforts to support Black women and girls and make sure they are informed about teen dating violence.

But Turner makes it clear that by talking with their children and modeling healthy relationships, Black parents become the most visible effort of how Black communities can reduce teen dating violence.

Black Parents Are at the Frontlines

Such community-led efforts to address Black teen dating violence are critical, but Turner says parental actions are preventative.

"It's important for parents to recognize that children learn messages from their environment about expectations—especially when it comes to relationships," he says. "The earlier you can begin these conversations with youth helps remove the taboo around things like verbal and physical abuse that they may have witnessed or that they may encounter in their own relationships as teens or adults."

Black mental health therapists are another underutilized, yet essential example of culturally -relevant resources for teens navigating mental health and interpersonal violence. No matter the medium, Turner suggests Black families have these conversations as early as possible.

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