DR ASHA PEMBERTON
Our daily headlines continue to be flooded with harrowing images of injured or deceased young women as a result of domestic violence. Also referred to as intimate partner violence, this refers to any behaviour within an intimate, friendly or partner relationship that involves physical, psychological or sexual harm. Examples of behaviours include physical violence, forced sexual intercourse, emotional abuse and at its worst, death.
A growing number of population-based surveys have measured the prevalence of intimate partner violence in adolescents and young women. Reports from many countries representing diverse cultural, geographical and settings confirm, that this is a worldwide problem. Sadly, adolescents who experience violence within intimate relationships tend to continue doing so into adulthood. Some reports cite that up to 75 per cent of adult women acknowledge an experience of emotional abuse or more, from a partner, in their lifetime.
Adolescence is a crucial period for establishing the foundations for the future health and wellness of women. During these times of rapid physical, psychological and cognitive changes, stress and experimentation, healthy relationships are integral to optimal development. When adolescent girls, (and indeed boys) are further exposed to violence – even in subtle forms – by those with whom they have created close connections, there is great potential for disruption of their psychological and social wellness.
In addition, adolescent females who have a less secure sense of self are more likely to engage in relationships with older men. In these scenarios, fragile teens are unable to differentiate demonstrations of caring from emotional manipulation and control, and as such are easily abused.
Violence within relationships is a serious public health problem that is disturbingly common among adolescents and young adults, ten to 24. In fact, it is by far the most prevalent type of violence against teens and young people and it impacts our nation's youth regardless of gender, race, socio-economic class, or sexual orientation.
The question remains: why are young women continuing to be so vulnerable?
There are various factors that can increase the risk for violence in adolescent relationships. A combination of individual, relational, community, and societal factors can contribute.
Common risk factors include:
• A history of physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal abuse by parents or guardians.
• Substance or alcohol use by teens.
• Experiences of violence between parents.
• Lower self-esteem or the belief that dating violence is acceptable and expected.
• Poor mental and social wellness.
• Community factors that do not support prevention activities.
• Poor response of the protective and judicial services.
As we reflect on the first weeks of 2021, we must recognise that the ongoing scourge of gender-based and intimate-partner violence continues in our country. There must be swift and deliberate action to endorse prevention activities, empower young women and importantly, hand punishment to abusers.
For too long such matters remain unsolved or slowly investigated. Too many young lives have been needlessly lost without justice. At the level of the family, teaching young people life-skills including communication, resilience, self-esteem and positive development are integral to mitigating the risks to which they are exposed in wider society. Many school-based initiatives exist through which the knowledge, attitudes and behaviours of young people regarding all forms of violence are developed.
Overall, however, there is need for the development of communication strategies and key messages to our young people that these forms of violence are completed unacceptable. Teenagers will desire and need peer connections and relationships. This is a normal aspect of adolescent life. However, they must be reminded that no healthy relationship involves humiliation, control or violence of any form.