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Curbing the Violence.

Is Sooner Better?

WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Craig H. Kliger, MD

Jan. 22, 2001 -- "Well it wasn't two weeks after she got married that
Wanda started gettin' abused
She put on dark glasses and long sleeved blouses
And makeup to cover a bruise
Well she finally got the nerve to file for divorce
She let the law take it from there
But Earl walked right through that restraining order
And put her in intensive care."

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Reactions vary to the Dixie Chicks' controversial song "Good-bye Earl," in which an abused wife and her friend kill an abusive husband. Some women can relate all too well. Others, young and old, have a hard time understanding why a woman would stay with a man who beats her.

"It is kind of stupid to stay with someone who would hurt you, because it could be dangerous," says Terri, a 13-year-old Dixie Chicks fan and seventh grader in Philadelphia.

"Until you stand in their shoes, one won't understand the choices available or not available to them," says Maryadele Revoy, a public education specialist at the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence based in Harrisburg, Pa. "Adults [and teens] have the same questions and may not fully understand the delicate dynamics."

Yet young teens like Terri soon may learn in school about dating and domestic violence. A new trend is emerging in state and federally funded programs that combat violence against women: They are starting earlier -- in middle school -- targeting students as young as 12.

Girls are being taught to demand respect in their early dating relationships, while boys are learning to improve communication skills to avoid becoming abusers. Experts believe these efforts will have a long-term impact, eventually reducing rates of intimate partner violence. But since most of these programs are so new, no one knows for sure.

The term "intimate partner violence" is replacing "domestic violence," which has grown to include elder abuse and child abuse, while failing to encompass victims of same-sex violence. The CDC defines this as "intentional emotional and/or physical abuse by a spouse, ex-spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, ex-boyfriend/ex-girlfriend, or date."

According to the National Violence Against Women Survey released in July 2000 by the National Institute of Justice and the CDC, intimate partner violence is a serious public health concern, with nearly one in four women questioned saying they were raped, physically assaulted, or stalked by an intimate partner at some point in their lives. Based on the survey results, experts estimate that 4.8 million intimate partner rapes and physical assaults are perpetrated against women annually, with more than 10% resulting in injuries serious enough for the women to seek medical treatment.

"Adolescents don't have the same protective factors as adults, and are at even greater risk for violence," says Abigail Sims, the In Touch with Teens program coordinator at the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women, one of the earliest programs to address teen dating violence. "The girls don't fit a profile. They are not weak, submissive girls. Sometimes they even hit back."

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