In February, I celebrated Black History Month by giving back. I volunteered my time to educate teens and adults about Teen Dating Violence in partnership with other New Jersey domestic violence advocates spearheaded by the leadership of Wanda Edwards, the founder of Not Just October, a compelling and inspiring theatrical production addressing the realities of domestic violence. The play is designed to invite the community in on a conversation that impacts more than 1 in 3 women (35.6%) and more than 1 in 4 men (28.5%) in the U.S.
Wanda coordinated the initiative after watching the gruelingly painful R Kelly documentary. The three-day broadcast shed light on a much bigger topic, that is the premature sexualization of black girls by society. How black girls are punished and blamed opposed to holding men accountable for their abusive behavior. According to a study from the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality, Black girls are perceived as less innocent and less in need of protection than white girls. Although abuse affects all race, ethnicity and gender, we cannot ignore the heightened bias black women face and the fact that they suffer from higher rates of death from domestic violence.
So, when Wanda provided the opportunity, I gladly accepted to partner with other advocates to bring more awareness about teen dating violence. In addition to the fact that my mother and I were victims of domestic abuse at the hands of her live-in boyfriend. By the time I became a teenager, I began to exhibit signs of an abuser. I was so filled with rage from the abuse I suffered as a child. When in a relationship if I felt I was losing control, it meant nothing to hit, slap, bite and even pull out a weapon on the young men I dated. I was a very promiscuous teenager, who fell into the same patterns of sexual abuse at the hands of older men like the women in the R. Kelly documentary. I thank God that I now know my self-worth and have been delivered from the behavior and a mindset that fueled low self-esteem and dysfunction in my life.
I don’t believe in keeping things hidden and sweeping uncomfortable conversations under the rug. Which is why I implore you to have purposeful and open dialogues within your family and community. Not speaking about this topic only makes it worse for both the victim and the abuser. Providing early education and resources to teens and adults can help individuals recognize the warning signs early, so they are empowered to take preventative measures or to seek help. It also enables the people in their lives to recognize the warning signs, so they are better equipped to support and intervene.
Violent relationships in formative years can have serious and long-term consequences, such as higher risk for substance abuse, suicide, eating disorders, risky sexual behaviors, further domestic violence and financial abuse. The subject of financial abuse is often overlooked in a domestic violence situation. But it is one of the most detrimental in keeping the victim confined in the relationship.
Based on the statistics, it is likely that you or someone you know has experienced abusive behavior. We owe it to the young people we love and support to create environments of open communication and to lead the change required. Let’s help to break the cycle, follow my lead and support organizations that seek to serve and support victims as a way of paying it forward.
Peace and blessings,