I am strong because I can lift my own weight. I am smart not just because I get As. I am bold because I am not afraid to stick up for my rights.
By Nadia Ensastegui
When a pop star or actress is the victim of relationship violence, everyone pays attention. Yet, domestic, dating and other types of violence are issues too important to be discussed only when they involve a celebrity. Girls and women suffer violence at the hands of a family member or significant other every day. In 2007, a national survey found that 9 percent of all high school young women reported being victims of physical dating violence within the previous 12 months. I know firsthand how scary this can be and how having the right education and resources can change these statistics.
Growing up, my friends and I often saw relationship violence. I thought that it was normal for women to be physically hit or kicked or have their hair pulled.
As a teen, I began dating and went from being an observer of relationship violence to its target. I experienced physical, emotional and verbal abuse at the hands of someone who I thought loved me. I did not know what to do, and at that time, I really believed that no other boy would ever want me.
Around that time, I joined an afterschool program at Girls Inc. of Orange County, Calif. We performed skits, in which we acted out the differences between abusive and non-abusive relationships. I realized that my relationship was the total opposite of normal and learned to value myself, take charge, and say "NO." Even though I was afraid, I ended my relationship with my boyfriend. Girls Inc. helped me stop being embarrassed and start being strong. Girls Inc. believes that all girls have the right to have confidence in themselves and be safe in the world. I felt safe telling the girls there what was happening, and that made me feel safe enough to tell my family.
My life completely changed. My family saw what had happened to me, and they realized how important it is to educate girls about relationships.
I am not a victim. My success story was the growth that came after the break-up. I learned how to defend myself emotionally, but most important, I learned not to settle for anything less than the best I can achieve. Today I am a college freshman, a soccer player, and a scholarship winner. When I graduate, I want to work helping children and families, maybe as a lawyer or social worker. Most of all, I always want to give back to my community.
It is important that we as a society talk about relationship violence _ when it happens to someone in the spotlight or to girls like me, who are just getting our start in life. It is essential that we teach girls how to recognize if they are in an abusive relationship, help them understand how and where to get help, and offer them resources to heal and grow.
It is also essential that we teach boys how to deal with violence in their lives. We must help them understand that talking about their own experiences of violence does not make them less masculine. Exposure to violence at home doubles the chance that girls will become victims of domestic violence and that boys will become perpetrators of domestic violence. Everyone who has experienced physical or emotional abuse needs to know it is not acceptable and that they are worthy of something better.
I had Girls Inc. to show me that I have worth and that I am in charge of my life and my relationships. Not everyone who has experienced violence is so lucky. Domestic or dating violence must be more than sensational headlines about celebrities. All of us have to work to create the resources, support systems, and educational opportunities necessary to make sure that girls like me (and the significant people in our lives) understand that there is no place for violence in any relationship.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Nadia Ensastegui currently attends Orange Coast College in California. She was a member of Girls Inc. of Orange County, Calif., for four years and is a Girls Inc. National Scholar.
(c) 2009, Girls Inc.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services, April 3, 2009
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