Many types of gender-based violence can affect the lives of young people

Knowing about different kinds of gender-based violence is an important responsibility for parents, school staff, youth workers and others who care about kids.

Understanding the different kinds of gender-based violence that could be affecting young people is an important responsibility of parents, caregivers, school staff, youth leaders and other community adults who care about, live with and work on behalf of young people.

Earlier this year, Arne Duncan, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, sent a letter to all chief state school officers emphasizing the need for heightened efforts to reduce gender-based violence. Secretary Duncan stressed the importance of having strategies in place to reduce and respond to gender-based violence affecting young people, including sexual assault, stalking, teen dating violence and human trafficking.

These types of violence can have serious – and sometimes devastating – short and long-term consequences for young people. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out that victims of teen dating violence are more likely to do poorly in school and to report binge drinking, suicide attempts and physical fighting. Young people involved with adolescent relationship violence may also carry these patterns of violence into their future intimate relationships. Those who witness these behaviors happening to others can also be affected in terms of their overall feelings of safety.

Secretary Duncan’s letter stressed the importance of raising awareness about these issues among students, school staff, parents and others across communities. Part of this awareness involves deepening our understanding about the following different forms of gender-based violence – which can involve youth-on-youth and adult-on-youth violence:

  • Sexual assault: The U.S. Department of Justice Office of Violence Against Women defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” Examples include forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling and attempted rape.
  • Stalking: The Office of Violence Against Women defines stalking as “a pattern of repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, contact or any other course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.” This could include direct communications made by a perpetrator via phone, mail, email or social media sites. It could also include indirectly posting information or spreading rumors about a victim by word of mouth or electronically, as well as following a victim, damaging their property, or making direct or indirect threats to harm a victim’s family, friends or pets.
  • Teen dating violence: Terms such as adolescent relationship violence, intimate partner violence, and adolescent relationship abuse are also used to describe this type of violence. The National Institute of Justice defines teen dating violence as including “physical, psychological or sexual abuse; harassment; or stalking of any person ages 12 to 18 in the context of a past or present romantic or consensual relationship.” Specific examples include physical violence such as hitting, shoving, slapping or kicking, and psychological or emotional abuse such as threats, name-calling, shaming and isolating someone from their friends and family.
  • Human trafficking: The U.S. Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons defines human trafficking as “a crime involving the exploitation of someone for the purposes of compelled labor or a commercial sex act through the use of force, fraud or coercion.” When someone younger than age 18 is induced to perform a commercial sex act, it’s a crime regardless of whether force, fraud or coercion was involved.

It’s also important for adults to understand “sexual harassment” as a related term for sexual violence within the lives of young people. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights distributed a letter to school staff about sexual harassment, Title IX and the legal responsibilities of schools to address this issue within school settings. Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that interferes with a student’s ability to learn, work, achieve or participate in activities. Examples include unwelcome sexual advances, sexual touching, requests for sexual favors, rating students sexually, circulating emails or websites of a sexual nature, and other kinds of verbal, nonverbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Too often, these kinds of illegal behaviors are confused with and labeled as “bullying” behaviors, which can prevent young people and their families from exploring legal options for addressing these harmful situations.

In addition to building their own knowledge about these issues – including when to involve legal authorities – adults can look for opportunities to have ongoing conversations with young people about these issues. Michigan State University Extension provides programs and opportunities for adults to help young people learn more about issues including dating violence and bullying and harassment. For example, a new MSU Extension resource called Be SAFE: Safe, Affirming and Fair Environments, helps youth and adults learn together about issues of bullying – including differences between relationship patterns that are healthy and those that are unhealthy. You can learn more about Be SAFE through the MSU Extension Bookstore.

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