Images of young people wading through their first relationships are often not the mental picture most people associate with discussions of domestic or dating violence. Yet, researchers and sociologists are documenting such abuse among people of all ages, as well as all genders, races and sexual orientations.
Studies and research on violence among LGBT youth is hard to come by. The data that is available — much of it bordering on being too outdated for any measurable good — does point to increased risk for sexual minority youth. For example, results from a survey of 184 self-identified LGBT young people published in the Journal of Adolescent Health in 2001 found 43.6 percent of males had experienced physical or emotional abuse in their relationships, while 39.8 percent of females had also experienced similar abuse. Another study on sexual minority youth, published in 2004 in the same journal, found 24 percent of males and 28 percent of females experienced dating violence.
Shanti Kulkarni, an associate professor of social work at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, is in her fourth year of a project aimed specifically at teaching young people about the dangers, signs and prevention of dating violence. Her project has relied upon the voices and experiences of young people, and the project’s accomplishments include training videos, school outreach and more.
Last summer, her project held a week-long camp where youth took the lead on producing, directing and filming short training videos on dating violence prevention. Those films, along with the project’s first, “My Next Girlfriend,” were screened at the Imaginon on Saturday, Sept. 11.
Kulkarni says specialists have ramped up their efforts to educate young people in recent years.
“In the past five or 10 years, there’s been a growing recognition and concern that youth are also experiencing these kinds of issues in their relationships,” she says. “Issues of power and control. Issues of physical violence, stalking — all the things we hear about in adult domestic violence.”
She says these concerns are heightened because a young person’s first relationships often form the basis for future intimate and romantic experiences.
“If teens have a bad experience in their first relatinoships, that could really carry over into difficult relationships in the future,” she says.
Despite this increased concern, Kulkarni says there’s been little outreach and awareness-building with youth, especially outreach that is both culturally-specific and -aware for various communities of color and for sexual minorities.
“I think different communities have different needs and experiences of violence,” she says. “For sexual minority communities, there is so much stigma already on these youth and they are so isolated to begin with that I think we need to work extra hard to reach out and let them know safe people to talk to.”
She adds, “It is really important for adults and everyone really to understand the additional obstacles and barriers sexual minority youth and adults face in dealing with violence, one being if they are not out to parents or in their schools. That can be a very powerful tool someone can use to control another.”
Kulkarni has teamed up with Time Out Youth in her own efforts to reach young people across all lines of diversity. She says some of her former and current students suggested the LGBT youth services organization to her. Last month, Kulkarni led a special discussion group on dating violence at one of Time Out Youth’s regularly scheduled evening group meetings. She also asked them to be a part of the next stages in her on-going project.
“It was very powerful to hear these youth use their voices, especially when they haven’t been listened to,” Kulkarni says. “They had a lot to say, were very thoughtful and bright and articulate young people.”
Laurie Pitts, one of Kulkarni’s former students, currently works as Time Out Youth’s director of programs and services. Like her former professor, Pitts believes it is important to educate LGBT young people on matters of dating violence.
“I do think it is a matter of education,” she says. “Education on different types of violence — they need to know that it isn’t likely that it will start out with you gitting hit. It’s going to start with verbal or emotional abuse. I don’t know that we do the best job of educating our youth on those specific dynamics.”
Kulkarni’s project will again recruit youth to participate in another round of filmmaking. That contest will culminate in another screening in February and prizes for all youth.
Throughout the completion of the project, Kulkarni says she will strive to not only talk about diversity, but be proactive in her approach.
She says, “We do have to go beyond just speaking about and using the word ‘inclusive’ and to actually being inclusive.” : :
— For more information on Kulkarni’s teen dating violence initiatives, email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on Time Out Youth, visit timeoutyouth.org.