• Adult Children Exposed to Domestic Violence
  • Runaway & Homeless Youth Toolkit
  • Prevent Intimate Partner Violence
  • Violence Against Women Resource Library
  • Domestic Violence and Housing Technical Assistance Consortium
  • Domestic Violence Awareness Project
  • National Resource Center on Domestic Violence


If you are in danger call 911.
Or reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline
at 1­-800-799-7233 or TTY 1­-800-787-3224.
review these safety tips.

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DVAM 2019 is Now!

Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month 2016: Empowered Youth on the Margins

by Patty Branco, Senior Technical Assistance and Resource Specialist for the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence

This February, the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence is committed to bringing the experiences and needs of teens from marginalized communities to the forefront and lifting up the amazing social justice work of youth leaders on the margins. These young people (namely, Native youth, immigrants and teens in communities of color, teens with disabilities, teens who identify as LGBTQ, teens who are low-income, runaway or homeless, among others) have unique experiences and their voices are critical to any meaningful conversation about preventing and responding to dating violence and to our overall goal of creating safe and healthy communities.

Although the body of research on dating violence tends to represent mostly mainstream experiences of youth, the information that is available does confirm that teens in marginalized communities can be especially vulnerable to dating violence. As it has been consistently documented, violence by intimate partners disproportionally impacts women and girls of color (Rennison, 2003; Catalano, Smith, Snyder & Rand, 2009; CDC, 2014). Moreover, findings from recent research focusing on sexual minority youth (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning) suggest that LGBTQ teens experience dating violence at rates equal to or higher than their heterosexual peers (Gillum & DiFulvio, 2012). According to a study by the Urban Institute, lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are at higher risk for all types of dating violence victimization compared to heterosexual youth. Further, when looking at gender identity, the study found that transgender and female youth are at highest risk of most types of violent victimization (Dank, Lachman, Zweig & Yahner, in press).

Expanding outreach and services to marginalized youth

While most teens have limited access to culturally responsive, age-appropriate victim services, teens from marginalized populations have even fewer options (National Center for Victims of Crime, n.d.). Often, they face additional barriers and challenges to finding safety and support. Let’s consider, for example, the unique experiences of runaway and homeless youth. This population of youth often has very few or no support systems. Therefore, those being abused in a relationship may find it more difficult to leave their abusive partner if they have no one to help them understand what is happening and the navigate the complex systems and resources that are available to them (NRCDV, 2015).

Immigrant youth also face unique challenges. For instance, those who are undocumented may fear that calling the police or telling a school counselor or parents about the abuse will open up an investigation that may result in themselves or their boyfriend/girlfriend being deported (Casa de Esperanza, n.d.). Language accessibility is another critical issue facing youth for whom English is not their first language. Not being able to speak in their first language when talking with a victim advocate may be intimidating and can potentially limit youths’ ability to accurately communicate their thoughts and emotions (National Crime Prevention Council & National Center for Victims of Crime, 2012). For youth of color, including African American or Native American teens who have experienced or witnessed discrimination or racial oppression, a sense of strong connectedness to their race/ethnicity and a mistrust of people outside their community may decrease the likelihood a victim will report the abuse or reach out for help. “The victim may even feel the need to protect their perpetrator or minimize the abuse” (Women of Color Network, 2008).

Compounding the various challenges mentioned above (isolation, lack of knowledge about available services, fear of repercussions, mistrust of “outsiders”), there is also the reality that the institutions and systems in place to help victims of partner violence (e.g., emergency shelters, mental health services, criminal justice system, etc.) are still ill-prepared to reach out to and assist teen victims in general, and marginalized young victims in particular. The continued development of culturally, linguistically and age-appropriate outreach and interventions is crucial to ensure the availability of relevant services and supports and to prevent youth on the margins from being further isolated, disempowered and revictimized.

Expanding culturally responsive outreach and services to youth on the margins is vital towards ensuring that more and more teens 1) have access to education about healthy relationships, 2) understand that they have rights and options if being abused by a dating partner, and 3) obtain support and advocacy services that are responsive to their unique needs. Of course, in order to effectively assist teen victims from marginalized communities, advocates need strategies and service models that take into account the identities, cultural values and lived experiences of the youth being served. Training and technical assistance organizations are available to provide advocates and allied professionals with training and resources to support the development and expansion of culturally relevant services to teen victims.

"One of the most important functions of teen victim outreach and education is to let them know that they are not alone and that help is available. As marginalized youth often feel even more isolated than other teens, culturally specific outreach images and messages can let them know that victim-serving organizations care about them and are prepared to welcome and help them” (National Crime Prevention Council & National Center for Victims of Crime, 2012).


Addressing and dismantling oppression

Addressing the intersectionality of oppressions and creating partnerships with other social justice movements also are core components of effective outreach and interventions with teens from marginalized communities. In working to empower youth on the margins, we must recognize that dating violence is linked to a web of oppressive systems such as racism, xenophobia, classism, ableism, sexism, and homophobia, and that experiencing multiple forms of oppression increases one’s vulnerability to violence. Consider, for example, the pivotal role heterosexism and homophobia (both societal and internalized homophobia) play in the perpetuation of violence in same-sex dating relationships. In fact, sexual minority youth have identified the intense stigma associated with “being other” than heterosexual as one of the most important contexts for understanding the existence of violence in same-sex dating relationships (Gillum & DiFulvio, 2012).

Oppressive systems are thus both root causes of violence as well as boundaries to finding safety and support. Only by taking into account survivors’ experiences of oppression and working to dismantle these constructs at the individual, community, and societal levels can we begin to engage with youth on the margins and effectively prevent and respond to dating violence within marginalized communities.

Tools are available to support youth, activists, advocates, educators and allies in facilitating the process of addressing and dismantling oppression. Making the Peace is a violence prevention program for helping high school students build safer schools, relationships, and communities. The Teaching Tolerance website by the Southern Poverty Law Center is a resource for educators who want to address issues of oppression and promote diversity, equity and justice. The Our Gender Revolution Conversation Guide explores concepts of gender, inequality, and gender violence to engage young people age 14 to 25 as social change agents. The guide discusses how gender inequality creates the conditions for gender violence, such as abusive relationships and sexual assault, which disproportionately impacts girls and women, transgender, and people who are gender nonconforming. Find these tools and more in the searchable PreventIPV Tools Inventory.

Taking an intersectional approach also requires that we reach out to youth-serving partners in social justice movements who are also working on addressing and dismantling oppression. In partnership, we can better prevent and address the complex dynamics of trauma often experienced by youth on the margins. Community-based organizations serving runaway and homeless youth, LGBT youth, youth living with disabilities, and youth of color can be great partnerships for victim service and violence prevention programs.

Nothing about us without us

Most importantly, let’s not forget that outreach and services to marginalized teens should be guided by their wisdom and lived experiences. These youth are best positioned to inform victim service providers, community-based organizations, preventionists and allied professionals about what “dating violence” looks like in their community (is that even the term that resonates?) and about effective strategies for preventing and addressing it. That said, community engagement is a key strategy in the development of culturally responsive services for youth on the margins. As Lumarie Orozco at Casa de Esperanza explains, community engagement in this context...

“is grounded in and guided by the experiences and expertise of young people
cannot happen if young people are not at the center of the work (…)
is done in partnership with young people
puts the tools, resources and supports in the hands of young people
creates leadership opportunities for young people to take on the work of developing strategies that promote their own healing and in creating healthy families and communities (Break the Cycle, 2015).”


We have much to learn from youth activists – especially those on the margins – who share our commitment to social justice. Let their voices guide our efforts, and let us mindfully step back and allow them to lead.

Join us this February for a series of events focusing on the experiences, needs, and social justice efforts of marginalized youth to support their empowerment during TDVAM and beyond!