Determining Access in Your Community

Young people are in a unique relationship to the law, our society and its services. As minors, they do not have the same rights as adults. In fact, the courts are structured to deal with minors in completely separate systems (juvenile courts instead of criminal courts, abuse and neglect courts instead of domestic violence courts, etc.), even if their problems are very similar.

Often, by law, youth are unable to access essential services (healthcare, shelter, public benefits, etc.) without the help of a parent or other adult. Even if the law does allow youth access, the service providers and other gatekeepers may deny teens services or simply not have them available.

Break the Cycle works on policies to remove theses barriers to justice and safety. By changing the law, training service providers and developing appropriate services, we help meet the unique needs of young victims.

Determining Access in Your Community

Youth need access to information and effective services to stay safe. Unfortunately, both may be difficult to find. Here are some important questions to ask yourself to determine if teens in your community have the access they need.

  • Can teens easily access information about dating violence and how to get help? Is that information where teens already go – online, at school, in the community? Do adults (like teachers, counselors, coaches, doctors, parents) have the training necessary to help a teen experiencing relationship abuse?
  • Are there local, youth-specific services for relationship abuse? Most services target adults and some even refuse to serve minors. Those that do help teens sometimes just offer their adult-centered services to youth, instead of catering to teens’ unique needs.
  • Can teen victims easily get help? Young people often have limited access to money and transportation. They are probably in school during business hours. How will they get to and pay for the services they need?
  • Do teens in abusive relationships have access to the justice system? By presuming the victim is an adult, statutes and court rules may severely impede a young person’s ability to receive legal protection. In addition, police may have an antagonistic relationship with local youth.
  • Can victims of teen abusers obtain protection orders? State laws generally do not consider the possibility of a minor perpetrating abuser. Many are unclear about whether a minor can be a defendant in a restraining order case and what rights a minor defendant will have. It is even unclear what court would hear the case – juvenile or domestic violence.
  • Can abusive teens access services to help them develop healthy relationship skills? Without help, abusers are likely to continue their unhealthy behavior. While it is critical to assist victims of relationship abuse, it is also important to help abusive teens learn new relationships skills. We must create batterer intervention services that effectively address teen abusers’ needs.

What Can Policymakers do to Promote Access?

  • Fund free services targeted to the unique needs of teens and young adults experiencing relationship abuse.
  • Fund training and technical assistance for service providers and justice system personnel so they are more accessible and more responsive to the needs of youth.
  • Modify laws to allow young people in abusive relationships to access protection orders and other aspects of the justice system without the assistance of an adult.
  • Address how state law will handle minors abusing their partners – outline what rights courts will give minor defendants, allow protection orders to apply to teens and outline the rules of such cases.
  • Fund courts to collaborate with community agencies to develop an effective response to teen dating violence.
  • Fund youth batterer intervention programs that leverage the power of the justice system to ensure compliance.
  • Educate fellow policy makers on this important, yet often overlooked, issue by speaking loudly and often about the needs of youth in abusive relationships.