Art Therapy in a Rape Crisis Center – Working with Teens

This Month is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. The goal of this month is to shine a light on abuse in teen relationships and focus our energy towards prevention efforts. Statistics show that 1 in 4 adolescents report abuse each year[1] and about 10 percent report being physically hurt by a partner in the last year[2]. and two-thirds of teens who are in an abusive relationship never tell anyone about the abuse. It’s beyond time to shine a light on this issue, it is time to take action and work to prevent dating violence.

A survey of teens in Fairfax County in 2009 revealed that 25% of teens had experienced dating violence.  Twenty-five percent equals 1 in 4, meaning 1 in 4 teens in Fairfax County have experienced dating violence. In the Rappahannock area, the Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault serves over 200 adolescents a year. It is critical that we remember that interpersonal violence is not just a problem for adults.

Recognizing abuse in a relationship can be difficult, especially for teens. There are many types of abuse that young people may believe are normal in a relationship. Even though teen relationships may be different from adult relationships, teens can experience the same types of abuse. Teens also face unique obstacles if they decide to get help. They may not have money, transportation or a safe place to go. They may also concerns about confidentiality with many adults obligated to make reports to police, parents and/or child protective services.  But, teens have a right to safe and healthy relationships.

What does this have to do with art therapy?  I am a practicing art therapist in a rape crisis center.   The majority of our cases are teens to young adults.   We use art therapy in many ways in our response to victims of sexually violent crimes.   From response in the emergency department for victims seeking medical care, forensic examination and court accompaniment where we use art journals or Mandala’s, to counseling sessions where we use narrative art therapy, MET/Art Therapy, art journaling, mask making, and family art therapy.   Art Therapy has a long standing record of efficacy in working with youth who are survivors of violence and trauma.  As adolescents work through the trauma and evolve from victims to survivors, we utilize art therapy and art expression as an advocacy tool to give survivors a wider voice.  Some of these are the banner project, in which survivors made quilt squares to form into banners or pillows; submissions of personal art to the state-wide Art of Surviving Sexual Assault traveling exhibit; and submissions to our Survivor’s Speak page on our blog www.rcasa.wordpress.com .


[1] Foshee VA, Linder GF, Bauman KE, et al. The Safe Dates project: theoretical basis, evaluation design, and selected baseline findings. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 1996;12(Suppl 2):39–47.

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth Risk Behavioral Surveillance—United States, 2007. MMWR 2008;57(No.SS#4).

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