Celebrate Us by Protecting Us

This past Tuesday, our country heard the news of another school shooting. Two high school students were shot, a boy and a girl, and the shooter was shot and killed by school personnel. Sixteen-year-old Jaelynn Willey was taken off life support on Thursday after being shot in the head. It is reported that she had been in a relationship with shooter, Austin Rollins, which she had ended recently.  Though we don’t know the specifics of their relationship the aftermath is unfortunately not uncommon.  Domestic violence is defined as violent or aggressive behavior towards a spouse or a partner and 50% -75% of domestic violence homicides happen after the victim has left the relationship. Women are more likely than men to be victims of domestic violence with 1 in 3 women being victims of physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.  It’s no surprise that women are often times most vulnerable after a relationship has ended.

March is Women’s History Month where we celebrate the achievements made by women. As this month draws to a close we have to begin to not only celebrate our women but protect our women. As a woman I have a right to end a relationship with my partner and not live in fear of the ramifications. I have broken up with partners and have them randomly show up at my house or try to find my location, in a desperate attempt to get back in my good graces. This has happened with more than one partner and while rom-coms romanticize the ultimate gesture to win back a lost love, it’s no joking matter. For the one being pursued, randomly having someone show up at your house who is often a state of despair after you told them that you didn’t want to be with them can be highly unsettling. Thankfully I have never felt threatened or feared for my life, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that with some partners it crossed my mind.

As we celebrate woman we have to instill in our boys and our men proper coping skills. A woman is not anyone’s property. A relationship does not give you the right to ownership. You are in an equal partnership with another human being. A human being who has opinions, a brain, and a mind of their own.  We have to teach boys and men that are not entitled to any part of a woman whether that’s her body or her time. We don’t owe you anything.

Understandably when any relationship ends, it is going to bring up hurt feelings. Your dreams of being with this person, of a future have been destroyed.  You can feel rejected, humiliated, depressed, and disappointed just to name a few. All of these emotions are normal and ok to feel at any given time. It’s how you handle these emotions that creates a problem. We’ve created a culture where men view emotional vulnerability as a weakness, and it’s not. It’s what makes you human: the ability to experience complex emotions and express them.  Expressing your emotions in a healthy way doesn’t make you weak, it makes you stronger by controlling your emotions not letting them control you. By giving in to anger and fits of rage, we become slaves to our emotions which can often have disastrous results. By creating a culture where we encourage men to talk about their emotions, to use creative outlets such as journaling or art, or even through more physical outlets like sports and exercise, we will begin to create a world where men don’t feel that the only way to be a man is to display bouts of extreme bravado.

While we don’t yet know all the details of this relationship and we might never know; it is within their families’ rights to keep this information private. We do know that teen dating violence is a very real phenomenon. Teen dating violence is the physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional aggression within a dating relationship. In a 2015 study, 12% of girls and 7% of boys had experienced physical violence in an intimate relationship. This is completely unacceptable and we must create safe spaces where we encourage teenagers to come to a mature adult for help.  We also have to teach our young people the difference between a healthy relationship and an un-healthy relationship. Extreme displays of jealousy do not mean that someone loves you. It usually means that they are possessive and need emotional help. A healthy relationship needs air and space to grow. No one should ever threaten or touch you in any way that makes you feel uncomfortable. These lessons must be taught, while it might seem intuitive for a grown up to understand it might not be so simple for a teenager who is feeling complex romantic emotions for the first time.

I was incredibly proud of all the young people who have decided to use their voice to protest gun violence by marching this weekend. Gun violence is a problem in our country as is domestic abuse. Issues that are incredibly complex and painful to discuss. But by keeping these issues in the dark we only cause them to become even bigger than what they are. My prayers are for all the families who lost a child or had them shot during this incident in Maryland; but I do agree that the time for prayers is over. If we can end gun violence in the country then we must do so. Enough is enough.

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