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"Teenage domestic violence is real and it happened to me."

I remember being 14 and thinking you were nobody until somebody loved you.

I was 17 when someone did. It was my first relationship, and I tell my 14-year-old sister about it with great conviction. I tell her I had respect from my partner– he waited and never pushed for ‘it’, he put me first and I made sure he cared for me.

Until he didn’t.

That was when he started to take control of me. He’d tell me when we could see each other and what we would be doing (which mostly involved me going to his house and having sex before he went back to playing the Playstation). He forced me to sleep with him, would constantly break up with me, taunt and insult me, tell me where I could go and who with.

I used to think it wasn’t the worse thing a partner could do. I mean, he never hit me.

And then he did.

I knew nothing about emotional abuse, but I knew enough to know it was never okay to hit someone you love. I knew I wasn’t happy and neither was he. I’m still glad I ended the relationship. And I will never forget how awful I felt when he treated me the way he did.

teenage domestic violence teens walking
'I will never forget how awful I felt when he treated me the way he did.' Image via iStock.

But not once did I think it was him who was causing the problems.

Now, my sister - my 14-year-old sister - has told me her best friend is on a similar path.

Her boyfriend is doing everything he can to control her. At 14!

He has made her delete Snapchat because he can’t see the messages she sends. He tells her he will break up with her if she hangs up on him. He doesn’t like her staying at her friends’ houses.

He forced her to lose her virginity in a public toilet, he pressured her into sending nude photos and, to put the icing on this steaming heap, he has a video of her giving him a blow job and has threatened to send it to her parents (and everyone else he knows) if she ever breaks up with him.

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In hindsight, I'm shocked by my reaction to this information. I was dismissive: these kids don’t know what a relationship is they shouldn't be bothering with all these boyfriend/girlfriend antics, she could be lying or exaggerating. How could she not know that she was being filmed, why doesn’t she just open up to her parents so this mess will be behind her and the parents can take further action…

teenage domestic violence teen girl
'He has made her delete Snapchat because he can’t see the messages she sends.' Image via iStock.

And then I realised I was blaming the victim. All my focus on was what my sister’s friend should be doing - not on how to change the boy's behaviour.

These are the facts, according to the government's RESPECT program: One in three women has been a victim of physical or sexual violence, since the age of 15, from someone known to them. One in four young people is prepared to excuse violence from a partner. One in four young people don’t think it’s serious if a guy, who’s normally gentle, sometimes slaps his girlfriend when he’s drunk and they’re arguing. The same number think girls like guys to be in charge of the relationship.

So why, after what I’ve experienced and what I’ve seen in the media, am I still in denial about what humans can do to hurt others - and how early it can start?

We might not know the specifics of domestic violence in teen relationships, but we know enough for alarm bells to ring. We know when a relationship - at any age - is unstable, and we know it isn’t respectful.

My sister knows the warning signs of a dysfunctional relationship. My mother was a victim of (emotional) domestic abuse well before my sister born and, after confessing my experience to her, she has endeavoured that her children know all aspects of domestic abuse. I also think her schooling has affected her perception of relationships. She saw the signs and immediately reported it to someone she trusted. She has told her friend that she does not deserve to be treated this way and has tried to make her see that emotional abuse is just as bad as physical abuse.

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Things went from bad to worse as he started to share the video with his mate who then shared it with his mates. The school became involved, her parents are beside themselves and, as reported by my sister, the boys parent's are not concerned.

At this moment, this young couple are still together. From the sound of it, the girl has isolated herself and defends her boyfriend's behaviour. The video has (hopefully) be destroyed and rather than force them to break up, they have been spoken to (individually) about what a respectful relationship is and what it looks like.

We can’t tell teenagers what to do – we just have to be clever in how we communicate so we can persuade them into thinking they are making their own choices.

My next thought is: what next?

Domestic violence is so pervasive at the moment. I work as a teacher, and we are expected to develop lessons that promote positive relationships. Students are expected to be able to identify the characteristics of respectful relationships and the rights and responsibilities of individuals.

This starts in year 9, the year "romantic relationships" are officially recognised. Students explore how power influences relationships and propose actions that can be done when a relationship is not respectful.

Some schools have created a “wellbeing curriculum” where students learn about things like self esteem, controlling behaviours and how these behaviours can affect others. There is a focus on awareness so students know what it is and what can be done.

So what can we do as parents? As sisters? As brothers? As adults?

For me, I know to respect my sister's dilemmas and listen without judgement. I ask questions and offer guidance. I stay interested and constantly check up on her day-to-day life. I share with her my experiences and what I did or what I wished I did.

Australian Government anti-domestic violence ad. Post continues below.

Video by Australian Government

If this were to happen to her, I would find out who the boy is, who his parents are, and arrange a meeting so all parties are aware of what is going on. Would I get the school involved(assuming they both go to the same school)?If it was the only way to arrange a meeting with the parents then yes. Would I send a text informing them? No, I would not. Text can be easily misinterpreted and messages can be deleted and forgotten about. If you have made the effort to get in contact with them, then they know it must be serious.

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If they were to stay together then I would respect her decision. I would continue to stay close, listen and discuss. I would hate for her to think that she couldn't come to me about something troubling her.

I know that my sister has made mistakes in relationships but I am proud to say that she is growing into a strong, independent lady who has the confidence in herself to say "No, thank you" to anyone that makes her unhappy.

Praise your child for their character, not for their success. Give positive reinforcement for how they treat others, for their kindness, for their altruistic behaviour - not for the grade they got on their report card.

Watch how you and your partner communicate with each other and with others. It comes to no surprise that your child’s language develops fundamentally from yours. They also learn what is appropriate behaviour in a relationship through yours.

'They also learn what is appropriate behaviour in a relationship through yours.' Image via iStock.

Talk to your child about their relationships. Show interest and listen closely to how they discuss their romantic partner or peers. Is it with respect? If not, challenge their behaviour. Observe their attitude since and during their relationship – are they happy? If not, then start digging to find out the cause and how to help.

Make contact with the partner’s family. Make them feel welcome just so you can touch base from time to time.

Tap into the resources that are out there - the government's RESPECT material, the HUSHeducation Facebook page.

And if you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship – seek help. If not for yourself, but for your children. What you’re feeling is what your kids are feeling and it can affect their relationships too.

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