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Only 152 days before the start of DVAM 2016...

Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month 2016: Empowered Youth on the Margins

by Patty Branco, Senior Technical Assistance and Resource Specialist for the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence

This February, the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence is committed to bringing the experiences and needs of teens from marginalized communities to the forefront and lifting up the amazing social justice work of youth leaders on the margins. These young people (namely, Native youth, immigrants and teens in communities of color, teens with disabilities, teens who identify as LGBTQ, teens who are low-income, runaway or homeless, among others) have unique experiences and their voices are critical to any meaningful conversation about preventing and responding to dating violence and to our overall goal of creating safe and healthy communities.

Although the body of research on dating violence tends to represent mostly mainstream experiences of youth, the information that is available does confirm that teens in marginalized communities can be especially vulnerable to dating violence. As it has been consistently documented, violence by intimate partners disproportionally impacts women and girls of color (Rennison, 2003; Catalano, Smith, Snyder & Rand, 2009; CDC, 2014). Moreover, findings from recent research focusing on sexual minority youth (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning) suggest that LGBTQ teens experience dating violence at rates equal to or higher than their heterosexual peers (Gillum & DiFulvio, 2012). According to a study by the Urban Institute, lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are at higher risk for all types of dating violence victimization compared to heterosexual youth. Further, when looking at gender identity, the study found that transgender and female youth are at highest risk of most types of violent victimization (Dank, Lachman, Zweig & Yahner, in press).

Expanding outreach and services to marginalized youth

While most teens have limited access to culturally responsive, age-appropriate victim services, teens from marginalized populations have even fewer options (National Center for Victims of Crime, n.d.). Often, they face additional barriers and challenges to finding safety and support. Let’s consider, for example, the unique experiences of runaway and homeless youth. This population of youth often has very few or no support systems. Therefore, those being abused in a relationship may find it more difficult to leave their abusive partner if they have no one to help them understand what is happening and the navigate the complex systems and resources that are available to them (NRCDV, 2015).

Immigrant youth also face unique challenges. For instance, those who are undocumented may fear that calling the police or telling a school counselor or parents about the abuse will open up an investigation that may result in themselves or their boyfriend/girlfriend being deported (Casa de Esperanza, n.d.). Language accessibility is another critical issue facing youth for whom English is not their first language. Not being able to speak in their first language when talking with a victim advocate may be intimidating and can potentially limit youths’ ability to accurately communicate their thoughts and emotions (National Crime Prevention Council & National Center for Victims of Crime, 2012). For youth of color, including African American or Native American teens who have experienced or witnessed discrimination or racial oppression, a sense of strong connectedness to their race/ethnicity and a mistrust of people outside their community may decrease the likelihood a victim will report the abuse or reach out for help. “The victim may even feel the need to protect their perpetrator or minimize the abuse” (Women of Color Network, 2008).

Compounding the various challenges mentioned above (isolation, lack of knowledge about available services, fear of repercussions, mistrust of “outsiders”), there is also the reality that the institutions and systems in place to help victims of partner violence (e.g., emergency shelters, mental health services, criminal justice system, etc.) are still ill-prepared to reach out to and assist teen victims in general, and marginalized young victims in particular. The continued development of culturally, linguistically and age-appropriate outreach and interventions is crucial to ensure the availability of relevant services and supports and to prevent youth on the margins from being further isolated, disempowered and revictimized.

Expanding culturally responsive outreach and services to youth on the margins is vital towards ensuring that more and more teens 1) have access to education about healthy relationships, 2) understand that they have rights and options if being abused by a dating partner, and 3) obtain support and advocacy services that are responsive to their unique needs. Of course, in order to effectively assist teen victims from marginalized communities, advocates need strategies and service models that take into account the identities, cultural values and lived experiences of the youth being served. Training and technical assistance organizations are available to provide advocates and allied professionals with training and resources to support the development and expansion of culturally relevant services to teen victims.

"One of the most important functions of teen victim outreach and education is to let them know that they are not alone and that help is available. As marginalized youth often feel even more isolated than other teens, culturally specific outreach images and messages can let them know that victim-serving organizations care about them and are prepared to welcome and help them” (National Crime Prevention Council & National Center for Victims of Crime, 2012).


Addressing and dismantling oppression

Addressing the intersectionality of oppressions and creating partnerships with other social justice movements also are core components of effective outreach and interventions with teens from marginalized communities. In working to empower youth on the margins, we must recognize that dating violence is linked to a web of oppressive systems such as racism, xenophobia, classism, ableism, sexism, and homophobia, and that experiencing multiple forms of oppression increases one’s vulnerability to violence. Consider, for example, the pivotal role heterosexism and homophobia (both societal and internalized homophobia) play in the perpetuation of violence in same-sex dating relationships. In fact, sexual minority youth have identified the intense stigma associated with “being other” than heterosexual as one of the most important contexts for understanding the existence of violence in same-sex dating relationships (Gillum & DiFulvio, 2012).

Oppressive systems are thus both root causes of violence as well as boundaries to finding safety and support. Only by taking into account survivors’ experiences of oppression and working to dismantle these constructs at the individual, community, and societal levels can we begin to engage with youth on the margins and effectively prevent and respond to dating violence within marginalized communities.

Tools are available to support youth, activists, advocates, educators and allies in facilitating the process of addressing and dismantling oppression. Making the Peace is a violence prevention program for helping high school students build safer schools, relationships, and communities. The Teaching Tolerance website by the Southern Poverty Law Center is a resource for educators who want to address issues of oppression and promote diversity, equity and justice. The Our Gender Revolution Conversation Guide explores concepts of gender, inequality, and gender violence to engage young people age 14 to 25 as social change agents. The guide discusses how gender inequality creates the conditions for gender violence, such as abusive relationships and sexual assault, which disproportionately impacts girls and women, transgender, and people who are gender nonconforming. Find these tools and more in the searchable PreventIPV Tools Inventory.

Taking an intersectional approach also requires that we reach out to youth-serving partners in social justice movements who are also working on addressing and dismantling oppression. In partnership, we can better prevent and address the complex dynamics of trauma often experienced by youth on the margins. Community-based organizations serving runaway and homeless youth, LGBT youth, youth living with disabilities, and youth of color can be great partnerships for victim service and violence prevention programs.

Nothing about us without us

Most importantly, let’s not forget that outreach and services to marginalized teens should be guided by their wisdom and lived experiences. These youth are best positioned to inform victim service providers, community-based organizations, preventionists and allied professionals about what “dating violence” looks like in their community (is that even the term that resonates?) and about effective strategies for preventing and addressing it. That said, community engagement is a key strategy in the development of culturally responsive services for youth on the margins. As Lumarie Orozco at Casa de Esperanza explains, community engagement in this context...

“is grounded in and guided by the experiences and expertise of young people
cannot happen if young people are not at the center of the work (…)
is done in partnership with young people
puts the tools, resources and supports in the hands of young people
creates leadership opportunities for young people to take on the work of developing strategies that promote their own healing and in creating healthy families and communities (Break the Cycle, 2015).”


We have much to learn from youth activists – especially those on the margins – who share our commitment to social justice. Let their voices guide our efforts, and let us mindfully step back and allow them to lead.

Join us this February for a series of events focusing on the experiences, needs, and social justice efforts of marginalized youth to support their empowerment during TDVAM and beyond!




Awareness + Action = Social Change: Why racial justice matters in the prevention equation

by Patty Branco, Senior Technical Assistance and Resource Specialist for the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence

En español: Conocimiento Social + Acción = Cambio Social: Por qué es importante incluir la justicia racial como parte de la ecuación de prevención (Casa de Esperanza)

A commonly used parable in social justice fields tells of two people fishing downstream. Suddenly a person comes down the river struggling for life. The fishers pull her out. Then another comes and again must be rescued. This happens all afternoon, and the fishers are getting very tired from trying to help as many people as possible. Eventually they think: “We need to go upstream and find out why so many people are falling in the water in the first place!” When they go upstream, they find that the old wooden bridge had several planks missing, and when people tried to jump over the gap, they couldn’t make it and fell through into the river. In the end, the fishers worked with the community leaders to fix the bridge.

The “moving upstream” analogy (and its various versions) is a helpful illustration of the primary prevention approach. In the context of domestic violence, primary prevention encompasses proactive efforts to stop intimate partner violence and abuse from happening in the first place by interrupting the cultural rules, norms, and constructs that support it (

Primary prevention is changing the social norms that allow and condone violence. Preventing violence means changing our society and its institutions—targeting attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, environments and policies to eliminate those that contribute to violence and to promote those that stop the violence. Primary prevention of domestic and sexual violence is defined as preventing violence before it occurs. This is social change work (MCADSV, 2012).”


Domestic violence is preventable! This October, the Domestic Violence Awareness Project of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence seeks to foster healthy families and communities by encouraging all of us to be part of the equation Awareness + Action = Social Change. This concept originated from the Transforming Communities: Technical Assistance, Training, and Resource Center (TC-TAT), providing leadership in prevention since 1997. Awareness + Action = Social Change is a framework that offers an opportunity to engage in critical conversations about what Action looks like.

Moreover, we are committed to engaging in domestic violence prevention through a racial justice framework. As we move upstream, we recognize that domestic violence is linked to a web of oppressive systems such as racism, xenophobia, classism, ableism, sexism, and homophobia, and that violence disproportionately affects women, children, and other marginalized groups. Experiencing multiple forms of oppression increases one’s vulnerability to violence, and can make it more challenging for victims to find the help and support that is responsive to their individual needs. By applying a racial justice lens to our work, we acknowledge the role of racism and privilege in perpetuating violence in our culture, and we commit to working to dismantle these constructs at the individual, community, and societal levels. (Check out this short video by educator Joy DeGruy for an example of how aspiring allies can use their white privilege to stand up to systemic inequity.)

In a seminal writing in the early 1990s, Kimberlé Crenshaw argued that the violence that many women experience is often shaped by other dimensions of their identities, such as race and class. To illustrate her point, Crenshaw shared her observations of the dynamics of “structural intersectionality” present in battered women's shelters within minority communities in Los Angeles: 

“In most cases, the physical assault that leads women to these shelters is merely the most immediate manifestation of the subordination they experience. (…) Shelters serving these women cannot afford to address only the violence inflicted by the batterer; they must also confront the other multilayered and routinized forms of domination that often converge in these women's lives, hindering their ability to create alternatives to the abusive relationships that brought them to shelters in the first place. Many women of color, for example, are burdened by poverty, child-care responsibilities, and the lack of job skills. These burdens, largely the consequence of gender and class oppression, are then compounded by the racially discriminatory employment and housing practices women of color often face (Crenshaw, 1993).”

"My focus on the intersections of race and gender only highlights the need to account for multiple grounds of identity when considering how the social world is constructed (Crenshaw, 1993)."


More than 20 years later, this conversion about intersectionality, how violence operates in institutionalized ways, and how marginalized groups disproportionally experience violence, is as urgent and critical as ever. As INCITE! – a national activist organization of radical feminists of color – argues, it is impossible to seriously address sexual and intimate partner violence within communities of color without addressing larger structures of violence such as militarism, attacks on immigrants’ rights and Indigenous treaty rights, the proliferation of prisons, economic neo-colonialism, the medical industry, and more.

"Intersectionality is a framework that must be applied to all social justice work, a frame that recognizes the multiple aspects of identity that enrich our lives and experiences and that compound and complicate oppressions and marginalizations (Uwujaren & Utt, 2015).”


That’s why we are committed to raising up these important conversations during Domestic Violence Awareness Month and throughout the year. As a movement, we know that community organizing is prevention work, and that addressing the intersectionality of oppressions and creating partnerships with other social justice movements are core components of effectively preventing domestic violence and contributing to the health and well being of our communities.

Join us for this year’s series of events exploring prevention in action!


Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month 2015: Promoting Youth Leadership

During Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and throughout the year, it is important to highlight the role that youth leadership has played as an effective strategy in the prevention of teen dating abuse. Research shows that young people are disproportionately impacted by partner violence, with more than 1 in 5 women and nearly 1 in 7 men experiencing some form of intimate partner violence between 11 and 17 years of age (CDC, 2011). When dealing with issues that directly affect their lives, it only makes sense that young people are meaningfully included in the planning and implementation of solutions. Teens, therefore, are best positioned to inform adults about the abuse that is impacting their lives and about effective strategies for promoting healthy relationships.


National Runaway Prevention Month 2014: Piecing it all Together

Between 1.6 and 2.8 million youth run away every year (Hammer, Finkelhor & Sedlak, 2002). This figure is staggering, yet the problem seems invisible. When a youth runs away, the impact is felt throughout the entire community. Statistics from The National Runaway Safeline show that the majority (29%) of callers identify family dynamics (divorce, remarriage, step/blended families, problems with family rules, discipline, or problems with siblings) and abuse as the reason for their call. Often kids run away from home to remove themselves from an immediately painful situation, but they have no plans or resources for what to do next.

The Link between Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse

During Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM), several domestic violence shelter programs across the country will be observing National SAF-T Day, held annually on the first Saturday in October. This national event originated in 2010 as an opportunity for shelters to host a local dog walk or other community event to raise funds to start or sustain an on-site pet housing program and awareness regarding the co-occurrence between animal abuse and domestic violence.

Why is such an initiative so important? Advocates have learned that abusive partners often use the bond between victims and their companion animals to control, manipulate, and isolate their victims. Research indicates that 20 to 65% of domestic violence victims delay leaving a dangerous situation because they don’t know where to place or how to protect their pets. Some survivors return because they fear for the animals’ safety (NRCDV, 2014).

Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month Logo

Every year, approximately 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner. It is also known that 3 in 4 parents have never talked to their children about domestic violence. In light of these alarming facts, every year during the month of February advocates join efforts to raise awareness about dating violence, highlight promising practices, and encourage communities to get involved.

There are many resources available to provide information and support to victims and assist service providers and communities to decrease the prevalence of dating violence among young people. Anyone can make this happen by raising awareness about the issue, saying something about abuse when you see it and organizing your community to make a difference. Take Action!


Universal Prayer2013 National Call of Unity

Did you miss the Call of Unity? A recording of the session can be heard via this link with messages from national leaders, survivors, and advocates, and the dual-voice spoken word poems of ClimbingPoeTREE. The 4th Annual National Call of Unity Summary (Storify) includes links to the inspiring resources that were shared including poetry, prayer, stories, and words of gratitude and hope. View and download the Universal Prayer for use at your October 2013 DVAM Events and beyond!


Focus on Elders for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day – June 15th

Everyone knows and cares about an older person at some point in their lives; many of us throughout our entire lives—whether that person is a grandparent, an elderly parent, a mentor or coach, or an older person that has been influential to us in some way. Unfortunately, statistics show that one in ten people age 60 and older are victimized by elder abuse.

The Administration on Aging (AoA) defines elder abuse as any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult. Please read on (by clicking the link above) for ways to increase your awareness of this crime and determine ways you can be involved in preventing its occurrence.


National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

Organized by the Office on Women’s Health, within the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health at the US Department of Health and Human ServicesNational Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, held annually on March 10th, seeks to raise awareness of the disease’s impact on women and girls, and empower people with the knowledge and tools to make a difference. Listed after the jump are several ways you can be a part of these efforts in your community, state, across the nation, and around the world!



Everyone is impacted by domestic violence and sexual assault either directly or indirectly, but many do not realize it. Now is the time to change that. Our goal this year is to teach men, youth, women — everyone within our communities — how to recognize domestic violence and offer support to speak openly about it.

This year we are joining others in saying NO MORE. Learn more below about the NO MORE CAMPAIGN and key International Public Awareness Campaigns addressing gender-based violence.


International Public Awareness Campaigns that Address Violence Against Women

Every year, UN Women: United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women join with Say NO-UNiTE to End Violence Against Women to commemorate the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. 16 Days of Activism begins on November 25 and continues through December 10 to raise awareness of this devastating issue that knows no bounds and to inspire action to end this pervasive human rights violation across the globe. Their website contains a global policy agenda, activist stories and videos demonstrating the work of their grantees, and 16 Ways to Say NO to Violence Against Women Action Steps.