Teens, Dating Violence and Art Therapy

February focuses on awareness and prevention of sexual assault and dating violence of teens.  Teens are more vulnerable to violence and face higher rates of occurrences – 56% according to recent statistics.

Dating abuse is a serious health concern for many students:

  • One in three high school students will be involved in an abusive relationship.
  • Forty-five percent of teenage girls ages 14 to 17 say they know someone their age who has been hit or beaten by a boyfriend.
  • Nearly 80% of girls who have been physically abused in their intimate relationships continue to date their abuser.
  • Both girls and boys can be abused by a dating partner and both girls and boys can be abusers.

Teens face greater reluctance to disclosing and greater obstacles to accessing services.  A study by Gale Spencer and Sharon Bryant in 2000 analyzed the difference in teen dating violence in rural, suburban, and urban settings. Their study found that teens in rural districts were more likely to be victims of dating violence than their suburban and urban counterparts, with female teens at greatest risk.  It is also apparent in analysis of the research and articles, that teen dating violence and sexual coercion among teens is less likely to be studied in the rural South, despite studies showing that the rural areas and rural areas in the south are more likely to have incidents of teen dating violence and sexual coercion. Rickert, Wiemann, and Vaughan in their study through the Center for Community Health and Education at Columbia University found that teens who were verbally coerced into sex were less likely (only 47%) to tell another person while 60% of teens who experienced rape/attempted rape were more likely to tell another person. Shorter dating periods and the use of alcohol were predictors of disclosure as well.  Meaning the shorter the time the teens were dating, the more likely the adolescent victim of sexual assault is to tell someone and the longer the teens were dating, the less likely the adolescent victim is to tell when violence enters the relationship.

Art Therapy can be an effective treatment modality for survivors of sexually based crimes.  At RCASA we use art therapy from emergency response to counseling services, we use art journals, mandala’s, visual journaling and narrative therapy, mask making, and puppetry/doll making.  We also use art therapy in our advocacy and empowerment in the community to give adolescents a wider voice for expression.  Here art is used as a communication tool with the greater community through banner projects, art exhibits, creative writing, and blogging.  Survivors who have completed therapy then begin to utilize their imagery and creative products to inform the community on the process of healing and advocating for victims rights.  Art is used as a continuity device for soothing and orientation in the aftermath of violence to calm and center during the initial medical and forensic response; as a centering and focusing device during the prosecution of the criminal case; as a communication tool with family and loved ones to strengthen relationships during the crisis; and as a healing tool for recovery.

Carol Olson, LPC, ATR-BC – Executive Director of the Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault

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