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Let’s Talk [Or Not]

Let’s Talk [Or Not]

January 18, 2010

One day I sat thinking, almost in despair; a hand fell on my shoulder and a

voice said reassuringly: cheer up, things could be worse. So I cheered up and

things got worse.                                                                     (James Hagerty)

Most researchers and interveners agree that intimate partner violence (IPV) does not mysteriously or suddenly appear the day heterosexual intimate partners reach adulthood nor is IPV limited to heterosexuals. Many interveners believe that teen dating relationships are the primary gateways to adult IPV.

Perhaps this is one reason that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan met on December 3, 2009 with teen leaders, their parents and the program directors from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Start Strong: Building Healthy Teen Relationships. The Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF) is the National Program Office for Start Strong.

The meeting was also in conjunction with nationwide events as part of the 6th annual It’s Time to Talk Day, organized by Liz Claiborne Inc. (LCI). This meeting was to draw national attention to the importance of talking about domestic violence, teen dating violence and intimate partner abuse.

The Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said something that I believe with ever fiber of my being:

For too long we’ve been unwilling to face the reality [emphasis added] that teen dating violence occurs. It’s been a taboo subject folks would simply not talk about. [emphasis added] But we can’t afford to do that any more: too many young people are getting hurt. We must all do our part to break the silence and work toward eliminating teen dating violence.

However, both Holder and Duncan appear unable or unwilling to recognize that the FVPF and LCI, as their websites clearly document, rarely acknowledge female offending or male victimization.

The Facts

The Facts on Teens and Dating is on the FVPF website. The first sentence of the opening paragraph reports that, “While dating, domestic and sexual violence affect women regardless of their age, teens and young women are especially vulnerable.” The FVPF does not talk about the fact that dating, domestic and sexual violence also affects men regardless of their age.

In the same paragraph the FVPF talks about the victimization of women and for a second time does not talk about the victimization of men. In the same paragraph the FVPF cites a study that reports huge numbers of young people are affected by partner violence. And once again the FVPF does not talk about male victimization or female offending in the above study they cite:

Prevalence of Partner-Violent Acts Committed During the Past Year Within Couples and Separately for Men and Women [This data is from the study the FVPF cited above]

Violent act




Any Violence




Severe Violence




In the first sentence under “Prevalence of Violence” the FVPF talks about girls “Approximately one in three adolescent girls in the United States is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner - a figure that far exceeds victimization rates for other types of violence affecting youth.”

The CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly reports that in 2003, 8.9% of boys and 8.8% of girls were hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriend or girlfriend. Holder and Duncan should question why the FVPF ignore talking about the victimization of boys.

What is more troubling is the 2007 CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly reports that years later the percentage of victimization remains the same for girls at 8.8% and the victimization for boys increased to 11.0%.

Perhaps this increase in male victimization is due, at least in part, to the fact that dating violence programs, similar to the FVPF and LCI do not talk about female offending. When they do talk about female offending they excuse female offending as being primarily self defensive and they claim that the motivation for girls is different than boys. However, the empirical data found here Let’s Talk About Dating Violence does not support their claims.

A study sponsored by LCI documents that both boys and girls suffer from approximately the same rates of verbal abuse. Most studies indicate that girls do suffer more emotionally from teen dating abuse. However, there should be no question that boys are still raised to conceal their emotions far more than girls.

The Sad Silence

Nothing speaks to the gender bias of FVPF and LCI more clearly than the LCI A Parent’s Guide to Teen Dating Violence. The LCI guide always uses “he” when referring to offenders and “she” when referring to victims. Incredulously and without shame, LCI ignores the studies it sponsors and claims that this implicit bias is because the U.S. Department of justice estimates more than 90% of all relationship abuse victims are female.

The FVPF and LCI rarely talk about the plausible theories and scientific data concerning cause, offending and victimization because of their ideological held belief that males are almost always the aggressive offenders and females are the passive victims - concerning IPV. Is it logical for organizations that, as their websites document, refuse to talk about male victimization and female offending, should be leading educational programs for our sons and daughters?

Holder, Duncan, the FVPF and LCI choose to ignore contemporary research and recommendations from a recent study and workshop that was co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice and Health and Humans Services that recommend the following:

Because girls engage in high levels of physical aggression and psychological abuse and most abusive relationships are characterized by mutual aggression, prevention efforts must be directed toward both males and females, and interventions for victims should include services and programming for boys and girls.

For the safety of our daughters and our sons, dating violence education needs to be based in science and not ideology. The websites of the FVPF and LCI demonstrate that these organizations have little to no interest in talking about our sons victimization or our daughters offending.

2010 Senatorial Styled Awareness

Apparently Holder and Duncan are not alone. Just as the 110th House of Representatives did not talk about male victimization or female offending House Resolution 590, so goes the Senate in 2010.

Senate Resolution 373 seeks to designate the month of February 2010 as National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. I agree that it is time that we talk about dating violence. However, the 111th Congress, similar to the 111th, has chosen not to talk about male victimization or female offending.

The resolution talks about, “Whereas dating, domestic, and sexual violence affect women regardless of their age, and teens and young women are especially vulnerable. The 111th Congress, similar to the FVPF and LCI has chosen not to talk about the victimization of men regardless of their age.

Further the resolution talks about, “…approximately 1 in 3 adolescent girls in the United States is a victim of physical, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner…” Apparently the two Senators who introduced the bill, Senator Crapo and Senator Lieberman are unaware of or do not want to talk about the national Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System that is conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and has been reporting for the last few years that more boys report being victims of dating violence than girls.

I sit here on a cold January snow filled New England morning and feel a chill. The chill is not due to the weather. It is due to the fact that, as a father of three daughters and two sons, I know that few domestic violence interveners, public policy makers, or members of the electronic and print media will face reality and talk about female offending and male victimization next month because it is a taboo subject that FVPF,  LCI, the 110th and 111th Congress, do not  talk about. And no one is willing talk to our daughters about the fact that the number one reason for being hit or injured in a teen dating relationship is to hit your partner first.

The Senate Resolution 373 claims that it is intended to support communities and to empower teens to develop healthier relationships. Parents should expect support for both their daughters and their sons. Just what is it that the FVPF, LCI, the 110th and 111th Congress are waiting for before they are willing to talk about male victimization and female offending. ?

Is there not a single member of the 111th Congress or a member of the media that is able to connect the dots between this continued refusal to talk about or minimize male victimization and excuse female offending with the fact that the victimization of our daughters does not decrease and the victimization of our sons continues to increase?


If you are reading this in print please use this URL to read it online at You have read my opinion. Now you can use the online version to instantly research, read and form your own opinions about the validity of the studies and decide for yourself if The Family Violence Prevention Fund and the Liz Claiborne Inc websites present the issue of dating violence in a fair and unbiased fashion. And you can decide if their websites fairly and without bias do or do not talk about female offending and male victimization. Regardless of what you decide I ask that you contact your Senator with this hyperlink because, as Secretary Duncan notes, we need to talk about dating violence.

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