"Red Flags" in the Lone Star State

Sobered by the latest stats, Texas launches a public awareness campaign to combat dating violence.

Published August 29, 2006 7:56PM (EDT)

In 2002, 74 percent of all Texans reported knowing someone who'd experienced domestic violence -- themselves included. Today, as the Houston Chronicle reports, it looks like the kids have caught up.

According to a new report, also conducted by the Texas Council on Family Violence, 75 percent of young Texans report the same: They've either experienced dating violence or know someone who has. One in two, across many demographic lines, reports being a victim of verbal abuse or physical or sexual violence. That's higher than the oft-cited national one-in-three statistic. Hard to say whether Texas has its own set of problems -- since you were wondering, Hispanics were a bit more likely to report violence than others, but a) not enough to skew the stats, and b) so were, say, city dwellers -- or whether those national numbers need some nuancing. Or some of both. (When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [PDF] crunched regional data, it found the prevalence of dating violence reaching 16.3 percent across state surveys and 20.8 percent across local surveys.)

What else? Females were more likely than males to experience dating violence, particularly physical abuse, and dating violence was found to be more prevalent among 18-to-24-year-olds, bisexuals and, bingo, those who'd witnessed a parent's violent behavior. (More here [PDF].)

The TCFV, with the help of the attorney general and the state's Department of Health and Human Services, has launched a public awareness campaign called "Red Flags" to send teens the message that "Control isn't love." Many teens surveyed -- and this is common -- didn't realize that persistent controlling behavior or verbal abuse "counted" as abuse, and that, bad as it is on its own, it can also be a warning sign of physical violence to come.

Texas isn't the first state to have launched such a campaign, but what's salient here is that Red Flags clearly goes out of its way to not use sad girls and weeping teddy bears in its graphics. In other words, it's not depicting violence as a "women's issue." Of course, it is a women's issue, but it's not only a women's issue. It's a men's issue, it's a family issue, it's a public health issue, and it needs to be depicted that way for it to stand a chance of actual "public awareness," if not actual change. The more men of all ages -- batterers, victims, concerned friends and relatives -- who are invited to educate themselves, the better.

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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