Utah teen violence numbers not going down

Feb 14, 2019, 12:44 PM
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SALT LAKE CITY — New numbers show reported violence and abuse among teen dating partners has not changed, which Utah health officials say indicates they have more work to do.

About one-third of Utah high schoolers reported some form of an unhealthy dating relationship, according to the Utah Department of Health. That could mean verbal, emotional, physical or sexual abuse from a teen’s dating partner.

Marty Liccardo, the men’s engagement specialist with the Utah health department, says parents need to be talking with teens and even younger children about what is and is not healthy at home, school, church and more.

“We normalize abuse and violence, in some ways,” Liccardo said. “We minimize it and sanitize it, especially among young people.”

Liccardo says it’s clear to him some teens and pre-teens do not have a good concept of what a normal, healthy relationship looks like. One girl told him she liked that her boyfriend didn’t want her to talk to other boys, because she thought it showed he loved her.

“Some of these precursors to violence and some of this behavior that would be comfortably identified as violence or abuse is, you know, ‘Kids being kids,’ or ‘boys being boys,'” Liccardo said. “This is the kind of thing we need to challenge.

And the same, Liccardo said, with “girls will be girls.” Liccardo says he also encounters teens who have no idea that verbal abuse or stalking or threats are not OK.

The Utah Department of Health’s data came from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which the department has conducted for more than 20 years. It gauges teen activity in a number of areas, including dating, alcohol consumption and more.

The survey found in 2017, among Utah teens who were “going out” with or dating someone:

  • More than one in four (26.5%) were verbally or emotionally harmed by their dating partner (33.2% of females and 19.7% of males).
  • One out of every 11 were forced by their dating partner to do sexual things they did not want to do.
  • Almost twice as many females (9.6% of females compared to 5.1% of males) were physically hurt on purpose by their dating partner.

Health department officials say if you or someone you love is in a violent relationship, you can call the Utah Domestic Violence Link Line at 1-800-897-5465 or the Rape and Sexual Assault Crisis Line at 1-88-421-1100. Both numbers are free to call, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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