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Uniting for Change: Preventing Teen Dating Violence in Indian Country

by Nicole Stahlmann, MN, RN, SANE-A, AFN-BC, SANE-P, FNE-A/P, IHS Division of Nursing Services Forensic Nurse Consultant

In the tapestry of Native cultures, the pursuit of harmony and balance is not just a philosophy, but a way of life. The Navajo principle of Hózhó, embodying harmony, balance, and beauty, guides their approach to life, thought, and health. The Ojibwe’s mino-bimaaduziwin represents a sacred, virtuous life, while the Yup’ik calricaraq advocates for living a balanced life rooted in steadfast traditional principles. Violence is not part of traditional Indigenous values or in cultural teachings in Native communities where living a life of balance and harmony is greatly emphasized and practiced.

The presence of violence, especially in the formative years of childhood and adolescence, casts a long and harrowing shadow, leading to cycles of revictimization, mental health challenges, substance abuse, and even suicidal thoughts extending into adulthood. Teen dating violence, encompassing a spectrum from physical and sexual violence to psychological abuse, bullying, and stalking, poses a significant threat to the wellbeing of adolescents. The digital age has further expanded the arena for such victimization. Alarmingly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one in 12 U.S. high school students have experienced physical and sexual dating violence. The 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance pointed out that American Indian and Alaska Native students reported the highest levels of teen dating violence at 18.5 percent, nearly five percent higher than the national average of 13.6 percent prevalence of teen dating violence (physical, sexual, or both), a statistic that demands immediate and concerted action.

Let’s make a difference! As we observe National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, it is crucial for us to come together to combat this issue within Indian Country. Here’s how we can make a meaningful difference:

  • Engage in open, non-judgmental, positive conversations regarding healthy and unhealthy relationships with Native youth.
  • Teach cultural and traditional values, strengths, and beliefs that encompass respect when addressing violence, addictions, and other behaviors not in harmony.
  • Educate youth to understand consent, boundaries, and healthy relationships.
  • Provide teens with education and identify how social media, movies, television, and literature can often misrepresent healthy minds and bodies.
  • Be the champion for teens and set positive examples of healthy, respectful, and nonviolent communication. Create safe environments, be their safety, go-to network in the event they need to talk to someone. ? Invite others to join in the conversation and encourage traditional community wellness.
  • Encourage healthy, nonviolent relationships through storytelling, art, or other culturally responsive ways to support Native youth.
  • Teach core Indigenous values that promote a space for positive health outcomes, minimizing the relentless, vicious cycle of trauma. Encourage positive harmony and balance through traditional Indigenous value teachings, enhancing thoughtful, nurturing, respectful, and compassionate Native youth lifestyles.

To further our commitment to addressing teen dating violence, we highlight the following resources:

Nicole Stahlmann, MN, RN, SANE-A, AFN-BC, SANE-P, FNE-A/P, IHS Division of Nursing Services Forensic Nurse Consultant
Nicole Stahlmann, MN, RN, SANE-A, AFN-BC, SANE-P, FNE-A/P, serves as the forensic nurse consultant with the IHS Division of Nursing Services. Prior to her work with IHS, she served as a forensic nursing specialist with the International Association of Forensic Nurses and was the clinical program manager for the District of Columbia Forensic Nurse Examiners. Stahlmann was an emergency department nurse and adjunct instructor, teaching both undergraduate and master prepared students at Georgetown University. She continues to practice clinically, providing care for patients who have experienced violence.