As a Chicana, the occasion of Day One’s 15th anniversary puts me in mind of the quinceañera celebrations of my youth. I remember the excitement and the truly overwhelming sense of importance – not at having become a young woman (we had been that for some time by the age of 15) – but at the fact that the world was now ready to recognize us. Just like me and my fellow Latinas at that age, Day One isn’t just now coming into its own power. It has already been a powerful contributor to movement work to end violence against women, girls, transgender and gender-nonconforming people. This is an opportunity for all of us to congratulate and celebrate Day One for all its years of work, and to recognize all the dedicated staff, program participants, board members, and community partners who contributed to its growth. Personally, I have a lot of thanks owed to the organization for my own growth.
Twenty years ago, my high school boyfriend turned violent for the first time. During an intense argument, he shoved me to the ground and drove off.
At the time, I felt like the push came out of nowhere. But now, after volunteering with Day One and attending their workshops, I know the classic warning signs were there.
No one asks you out on a first date and says “I am going to hit you in six months.” Abusive relationships start the exact same way healthy relationships start. Puppy love. Sweet moments. Flowers, stolen kisses, long phone calls and hand holding.
When I was in my bad romance in high school (the one my new young adult novel, Bad Romance, is based on), it was hard for me to be honest with my friends and family about what was really going down in my relationship. For one, when your partner is a master of manipulation, it can be hard to know what exactly is going on in the first place. I can’t tell you how many arguments began with me accusing my boyfriend of something, only to end with me apologizing to him. Teen Dating Violence isn’t just physical or sexual abuse: it is often mental, verbal, and emotional.
Here’s a scary thing: one in three teens are affected by dating violence. One in three. I don’t know why this surprises me, since nearly every girl I talk to admits that she’s had an abusive boyfriend or knows someone who was in a bad romance. Maybe she’s with him now, or maybe they broke up ages ago after too much shouting and crying and hurting. Maybe he was emotionally or physically abusive. Maybe he was verbally abusive. Maybe he was just plain mean. Some of my guy friends have had abusive boyfriends or girlfriends, too. It’s kind of ridiculous, how much heartbreak so many of us are willing to put up with just so that we don’t have to be alone.