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Youth Can Break the Silence: A Conversation about Domestic Violence and Young People

By Leslie Massicotte, Teens Climb High Coordinator



Since Compass Center’s primary focus is domestic violence, I thought it’d be good to explore how domestic violence affects young people and what youth can do to both recognize and prevent domestic violence.


Joining me in this conversation are Compass Center’s own Joy Shaver (Director of Domestic Violence Crisis Services), Xochitl Carlos Mendez (Manager of Latinx Services), and Brooke Anderson (Black and African-American Communities Services Coordinator).


Check out our conversation below!


1. What exactly is domestic violence?


Joy: Domestic violence is a pattern of intentionally violent or controlling behavior used by a person against a family member or intimate partner to gain and maintain power and control over that person, during and/or after the relationship. Basically, it’s about someone using their power to control and abuse their partner.


You can use this power and control wheel to see examples of how power and control can be used in a domestic violence relationship:



2. How does domestic violence impact youth?


Joy: Later adolescence is about the time when we see young people trying to defend the abused parent and possibly getting injured or being jailed. The school to prison pipeline is really pronounced at this time in young people’s lives, meaning that black and brown students are being disciplined more harshly than their white peers at school and in life, unfairly setting them up to disproportionately spend time in jail later in life. Our black and brown kids are being seen as adults yet still have developing brains. So if they’re getting angry because they’re expressing their trauma from domestic violence or if they’re struggling in school due to domestic violence at home or if they are experiencing domestic violence in a relationship, that is a real challenge for youth of color.


Brooke: I know that teens are still learning and developing, and a lot of what they’re learning comes from what they see. So if they’re living in a home with domestic violence, they think that’s what love looks like because that’s what’s being modeled to them. For black and brown kids, this is a huge issue. Your home is supposed to be a safe space. If you’re experiencing violence in the world, you should be able to come home and feel safe. But that’s not always the case.


Xochitl: Definitely. In the Latinx community, people normalize some behaviors. A lot of teens repeat the patterns that they see in their families. They think, “It’s ok for my father to talk to my mother like that, so I’m going to do that in my relationship.” Teens are having a lot of personal and physical changes. They’re in a period of instability, so seeing this behavior from their parents impacts their own friendships and relationships.


Joy: I also think about the statistic that suicide rates go way up if you’re exposed to domestic violence as a kid. Suicide attempts increase because youth think there’s no safe place for them.


Xochitl: I would add that you can also sometimes see drug use start during this time, to help deal with the reality of what they’re experiencing.


3. What should youth know about domestic violence?


Brooke: They should know that domestic violence is not normal. In a lot of communities, domestic violence is normalized. That’s how they see their parents or siblings act but really, that’s not normal and that’s not what love looks like.

It’s ok to break that cycle, to do something different, and to question the behavior regardless if it’s your parent doing it.


Xochitl: It’s important to understand what a healthy relationship looks like. If you get lost in the dynamics of a domestic violence relationship, it’s hard to know what a healthy relationship is. It’s also important to know that there are different types of domestic abuse. Within the Latinx community, if there’s no physical abuse, it’s not domestic violence. However, domestic violence can include financial abuse, emotional abuse, social abuse--this is all part of DV.

Aspects of a healthy relationship. (Source: https://www.kiraninc.org/healthy-vs-unhealthy-relationships )


Joy: DV can happen at any age. You’re not too young to be experiencing domestic violence. Often teen relationships aren’t seen as super valid to the rest of the world (adults like to call it “puppy love”), but domestic violence can happen to you as a teen and there are resources to help you through it.


4. How does domestic violence differ from youth relationships to adult ones?


Joy: The tactics of abusers change for youth and adults because teen lives are very different from adult lives. For example, abusers can’t typically use children against the other parent (unless they’re teen parents), and the use of peer pressure is probably more prevalent for youth in domestic violence relationships. This is because of the school environment--we see young abusers attempting to control who their partners talk to at school and manage how they’re seen or perceived within their friend groups. This kind of pressure also happens faster with youth than it does with adults.


Brooke: I think that for youth the internet is so prevalent. There are so many apps geared towards youth that can put them into potentially dangerous situations. Apps can expose teens to a wider audience and open them up to abuse, bullying, or stalking. And they can’t escape it. They’re on the internet for school things, social things, everything these days. They’re inundated with images and access to anything and everything. So we’re seeing that the internet can be used as a tactic for teens to gain power and control over others and also be victims of that kind of control.


Joy: People are also likely to feel safer on the internet. This makes it easier to pressure someone on the internet, for example, to take sexual pictures or to put someone at an increased risk of revenge porn (putting someone’s nude photo or video on a porn site without their permission).


5. What should youth do if their parents, guardians, or family members are experiencing domestic violence?


Joy: If you have access to a phone, call a DV agency and create a safety plan for yourself. (You don’t even have to give your name!) It’s really helpful to talk to somebody about what would be a safe way to handle the situation. Leaving an abusive relationship can be really dangerous, and we want to help you reduce that danger.


If your friend is in an abusive situation, you shouldn’t jump right into it and try to change the situation yourself without any outside help. That can be really dangerous in a domestic violence situation. You can call use and ask for advice if you suspect your friend is being abused.


Xochitl: Also know that there is always an adult somewhere that you can trust. It could be a teacher, an uncle, anyone, who can help you with the situation.


Plus, now that technology is everywhere, you can access the internet for many resources. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone, there are internet resources--like the Compass Center.


Brooke: Seriously, if you just google the words “domestic violence,” there’s a wealth of information at your fingertips. It’s best if you can have a trusted person help you navigate the sources to find which ones are correct, but there are many agencies both local and national that help support individuals in domestic violence situations.

6. How can youth prevent domestic violence in their own current or future relationships?


Brooke: Just don’t remain silent. It’s hard because you may feel alone or isolated, especially being a teen. But silence and secrets create shame. Speak with a guidance counselor, trusted person, or family friend. If it doesn’t feel right, speak up.

Silence and secrets create shame. Don’t remain silent!


Joy: One thing I personally try to focus on when I’m selecting a partner is asking, do they respect me and my opinion? This is the first thing I look for when talking with someone I want to date because it can really show how they’re going to treat you long-term. Also look at how your partner responds when you say no or when you express your boundaries. Saying no to little things at the beginning may give you an idea if this person is seeking control.


Xochitl: I’d encourage you to look at what things are negotiable in your relationship and what things aren’t. Liking pizza or tacos better--that’s negotiable, but equality and respect are not.


Joy: I just want to add that it is normal if you’re in a DV relationship to love the other person and to feel torn about breaking up with them. That’s not an easy choice. The media says it’s easy to walk away, to just leave, but it’s pretty normal to find that decision challenging.




With that, I hope you found this conversation enlightening! Be informed and be safe, friends!


Call the 24/7 Compass Center hotline if you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence: 919-929-7122


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210 Henderson Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27514

Monday – Friday: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Phone: 919-968-4610

Hotline (24/7): 919-929-7122

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Compass Center for Women and Families is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.