Novelist: Dating abuse crosses lines of nationality

Teaching dating safety at an early age can provide young people the information and tools they need to build a healthy relationship. After all, early relationships play a pivotal role in teens’ lives and are important to developing the capacity for long-term, committed relationships in adulthood. The quality of adolescent romantic relationships can have long-lasting effects on self-esteem and shape personal values regarding romance, intimate relationships and sexuality.

Readers of Marshall’s Rank & File might think it strange that a fiction writer is sharing her opinions about dating safety education. However, the main character in my novel-in-progress marries as a teen and endures mental and physical abuse at the hands of her alcoholic husband until her life explodes with violence. Her saga begins in 1960s Tehran, where miniskirted women with college degrees are subject to arranged marriages—half a world away, a different culture, another time and place. Yet, I believe the challenges of building healthy relationships are timeless and cross-cultural.

If my protagonist had access to a program like DASH, which helps youth recognize gender-based stereotypes, improve conflict-management and communication skills and decrease acceptance of partner violence, she would have been more likely to recognize the warning signs for and cues to abusive relationships before she married an abusive man.

She would have been aware of a safety plan, gained information and access to local, state and national resources to support her. In essence, she would have had the information, resources and confidence to escape the abusive relationship. She may have found someone who would bring her happiness and comfort, boost her confidence and value her opinion. In other words, her story would have wound up delightfully boring from a literary perspective—without conflict, without drama.

DASH and early dating safety education programs arm youth with valuable resources and information, empowering them with the ability to identify abusive behaviors and know where to find help if they or someone they know are in an unsafe dating situation and to develop the capacity for healthy, long-term adult relationships.