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Three in 10 Aussie teens experience intimate partner violence and Women's Community Shelters is doing something about it

By Maddison Leach|

Picture a teen sitting at home, nose buried in their phone. Maybe they frown, or shoot off a text with a huff.?

Most Australian parents would shrug it off as normal, never suspecting that their child is being abused by their boyfriend or girlfriend.

READ MORE: Julia's fearful 10-word text while trapped in a violent marriage

Stock image of a young girl on a phone and laptop.
Nearly 30 per cent of late teens suffer intimate partner violence, according to data from the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS). (Pexels)

"Domestic abuse isn't just something that happens in a family context, it happens in these new relationships, where they're trying things on for the first time and seeing what it feels like to be part of a couple," Women's Community Shelte CEO Annabelle Daniel OAM tells 9honey.

Intimate partner violence is a hot button issue in Australia but teens are too often left out of the conversation, leaving them vulnerable to violent relationships.

Nearly 30 per cent of late teens suffer intimate partner violence, according to data from the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), but Daniel says kids as young as 12 or 13 have also reported concerning behaviour from boyfriends or girlfriends.

Women's Community Shelters CEO, Annabelle Daniel OAM.
Women's Community Shelters CEO, Annabelle Daniel OAM. (Supplied)

But how are parents supposed to see the signs when their children don't come home with visible bruises or black eyes?

"There's different ways that teens can experience abuse in relationships [and] we're slowly moving the needle on what we understand domestic abuse or intimate partner violence to be," Daniel explains.

"They might be stalking you on social media, checking up on where you are all the time. They might be intimidating or threatening you."

Coercive control is a massive component of intimate partner violence and it crops up in unhealthy teen relationships to an alarming degree, especially over social media, where teens can track one another's locations and see who their partner is interacting with.

But many young Aussies lack the education and language to identify those behaviours as concerning and potentially abusive, which is why age-appropriate programs like WCS' Walk The Talk are so vital.

Since 2019, the program has been delivered to Aussie Year 9 and 10 students by WCS Director of Education Dannielle Miller and Jack Ellis to educate teens about everything from consent and cultivating respectful relationships.?

The response has been incredible but bittersweet.

Boys and girls are "so engaged" with the program, which is a great step towards healthier relationships in Australia, but it's also prompted many teens to come forward with stories that prove why programs like Walk The Talk are so necessary.

Kids who have only just started high school go to their teachers after Walk The Talk sessions to disclose that they've been subjected to violence in their first romantic relationships.

"When you equip teens with the knowledge of what respectful relationships are and what they're not, then certainly they're more willing to come forward," Daniel says.

"They say, 'I knew something wasn't right with my boyfriend, but you've now given me the language to describe what was actually going on and it's not okay. I need to end it.'"

READ MORE: Jacinta escaped abuse only to be 'taken advantage of' in hospital

Stock image of a young couple on the playground.
"They say, 'I knew something wasn't right with my boyfriend, but you've now given me the language to describe [it].'" (Pexels)

These disclosures beg the question; where are such young Aussies learning controlling and abusive behaviours?

"If there was a simple answer to that, we would have solved the problem," Daniel admits.

It's been proven that young women who have experienced violence in the home are at a slightly increased risk of being victims of domestic and family violence, while young men exposed to the same upbringing are at a slightly increased risk of being perpetrators.

But coercive control and partner violence also occurs in budding relationships where neither child was previously exposed to family violence.

That's why early intervention is so important for all young Aussies.

READ MORE: After being shot, police sent Kathy back to a violent home

Stock image of two young boys on their phones.
It's been proven that young men who have experienced violence in the home are at a slightly increased risk of being perpetrators. (Pexels)

Young people need to understand the dynamics of power and control, risk factors and warning signs of violence, and how to seek help for themselves or others.

"So many teens reach out to their friends before anybody else," Daniel notes.

"It's incredibly important that we equip young people with the skills to support their friends where they can, but also to refer on to some safe adults and services."

Walk The Talk is one such service striving to educate and empower young people, show them what healthy relationships look like, and end the epidemic of intimate partner and family violence in Australia.

But there are some parents in Australia who are against that work.

Some don't want their kids learning about this violence, claiming teens are 'too young' and it's 'not appropriate'. Daniel insists that kind of attitude won't solve the problem.

If anything, it could make it worse.

"Around Australia right now, over a million children are living in families where domestic abuse is present. You can't ignore that statistic and pretend that they're not already dealing with it," she warns.

"If you don't address it, you also run the risk of some of those early relationships, having unhealthy dynamics and then setting up kids for life to expect that that's what's normal C and we don't want that."

Instead of opposing partner violence education in schools, parents can take control by having open conversations about respectful relationships at home first (provided it's safe to do so).

Getting involved with local domestic and family violence organisations is another great way to help educate kids, as is donating cash, supplies or time.

WATCH: How to spot domestic abuse?

"Domestic and family violence is a solvable problem, and we should be optimistic about solving it," Daniel says.?

"But it takes all of us doing what we can, where we are, with the skills that we have to help solve it."

Support is available from the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service at 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).

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