“He’s not abusive; he just hits me sometimes.”
“He didn’t assault me; he just slapped me.”
“He didn’t punch very hard; it’s only fractured here and here.”
These lines sound like the kind of dialogue you’d expect to read in a bad novel, but they’re all things that I’ve heard from real people – and not just any real people, but teenage girls. The one who claimed not to have been punched very hard? A 15-year-old describing fractures to her jaw.
When I became a prosecutor, I knew I’d be working with a lot of battered women. I didn’t realize, though, just how young some of those “women” would be. Teenage girls fall prey to dating violence at distressingly high rates, and often don’t know where to go for help.
“What’ll you do if he hits you again?” I asked one young mother-to-be, hoping she’d say “leave him,” or at least “tell the police.” She thought about it carefully and replied “I’ll cover my stomach.” I was taken aback at the time, but later I wondered how different my answer would have been at her age. I remember an earlier conversation, equally disturbing, in which a 16-year-old explained to her friends why “twice isn’t a big deal,” but three assaults by a boyfriend would be reason for serious concern. That was me in 1993 – a long time ago, yes, but sometimes I wonder how far we’ve come. When I hear teenage girls sighing over how Chris Brown and Rihanna are meant to be, or singing along to songs with blatantly offensive lyrics about women, I realize that the girls begging me to drop the charges against their boyfriends aren’t throwbacks to the past. They reflect the world in which they live – a world which Guiders have the opportunity to shape.
As we commemorate Canada’s Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women, keep in mind that such violence isn’t just something that Girl Members might learn of second-hand or experience when they grow up. Some may be facing it right now, or may face it within a few years. Stay alert and approachable, and try to make your girls aware of age-appropriate community resources.
It might be the most important thing you do as a Guider.
By guest blogger Amy Porteous. Amy was Deputy Chief Commissioner-Governance and is currently a Pathfinder Guider in Iqaluit, Nunavut (“Ee-hal-oo-eet, Noo-na-voot,” please!). Read Amy’s past guest piece on our blog: A Guider’s Unique Perspective: Why Some Girls (Really) Need Guides