To Help Teens Experiencing Dating Violence, Meet Young People Where They're At


To Help Teens Experiencing Dating Violence, Meet Young People Where They're At

To Help Teens Experiencing Dating Violence, Meet Young People Where They're At

Some people mistakenly think that when teenagers experience intimate partner violence, it's less serious than when adults experience it, explains Andrew Sta. Ana,  supervising attorney of Day One, which seeks to end teen dating violence. "There's this idea, 'Oh, teen DV. That must mean domestic violence or intimate-partner violence 'lite'... I think that what's important to recognize about teen dating violence, particularly as it affects young women, is that [the age group of 18 to 24 has] the highest rates of dating violence" among any group, Sta. Ana says in this New Thinking podcast. He also explains what services Day One offers clients and how it works with the Brooklyn Youthful Offender Domestic Violence Court, and he discusses some of the factors that distinguish cases of teen intimate-partner violence from adult cases, including differences in law, the use of technology, and adolescent brain development.



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The following is a transcript: 


Intro clip: “When I started doing this work, one of the most important lessons I learned was people said the opposite of domestic violence isn't safety. The opposite of domestic violence is self determination.”

ROB WOLF: I'm Rob Wolf, director of communications at the Center for Court Innovation. Today I am in the office of Andrew Santa Ana, who is the supervising attorney at Day One, which is a legal services program that works with teenagers and young people who are experiencing or are survivors of intimate partner violence. Welcome to the podcast.

ANDREW SANTA ANA: Thank you so much for having me. I'm glad we're able to do this.

WOLF: Your work involves many things. I thought maybe we could start with a program that the Center for Court Innovation has been involved in and helped develop, the Youth Offender Domestic Violence Court in Brooklyn, which works with young people ages 16 to 19 who have been involved in intimate partner domestic violence, misdemeanor criminal cases. Now, your role is representing the victims in civil cases. Is that correct?

SANTA ANA: Yeah, when there's a case going on in the YODVC, many of the young people who are victims in that case have questions about family court, custody of their kids, or orders of protection in the civil process. We have a pretty close relationship with the Brooklyn district attorney's office. They make referrals to us and we see how we can help.

WOLF: Let's talk about your clients and being a teenager in an intimate partner violence situation. Are there different characteristics? Are there different issues and concerns that teenagers have and that you have representing teenagers than an adult might have?

SANTA ANA: Sure. Young people are obviously a different population with respect to their age. That plays out in a few different ways. There are things about it that are similar to cases involving adults and things about it that are significantly different. When I think about the differences, I break them into a few different categories. First and foremost is the law, right? When we talk about working with young people, the law treats young people and minors differently, right? A young person under the age of 18 is considered an infant of the laws, considered a minor or someone with diminished capacity. From the get go you have someone for whom the standard is a little bit different and that requires more from an attorney and from the court to think about where that young person is. There's definitely the legal aspect of that.

Then, secondly, there's the culture aspect of that, which means that young people who are teenagers in the 2014 time are different in some ways because of their access to technology than young people even just 10 years ago. We're talking about manifestations of intimate partner violence or ways that power and control manifest. They're taking along on a huge technological component. Then, I would say the last piece about this is that as studies and research develops, we know that we're interacting with young people at a certain developmental stage in their lives. Whether it be normal teenage brain development to hormones to relationships with their parents, we know more information about how young people are processing information. That helps inform what services they need, what they seek, and what remedies are appropriate.

WOLF: The Youth Offender Domestic Violence Court takes care of or works with the criminal side of things. Then, what happens if you get a referral from the court? What are some of the issues that, some of the civil remedies or issues that you're dealing with when you represent the young victims in a civil setting?

SANTA ANA: Sure. When people contact Day One, they might have questions about a civil case. We work with a lot of teen mothers who have questions about whether it be paternity or child support or custody and visitation, the clients we work with also have a right to file for an order of protection from the civil process. Those are often some pretty typical questions but also because of the lives of our clients are complicated and they have many different identities. Sometimes there's questions about benefits, about young people and teenagers accessing public benefits. There's sometimes immigration questions. If we're talking about young people in violent relationships, there's also the need for them to just to connect with someone and to talk to someone.

We have legal services, but we also have one-on-one and group counseling services. We also have a survivors group that does advocacy. Thinking about where that young person is and being responsible for that is where we come from because while it's great and I can talk to someone about their legal options, sometimes they just want to talk to someone about this relationship where it might have been their first time they were in love or the parent to their child with whom they might have a complicated relationship. It's important for young people to have people that they can talk to and reach out.

WOLF: Let's put this in a little bit maybe in historical context. Domestic violence itself has been an issue that has taken historically many years for advocates to bring to the attention of the justice system and take it as seriously as any violence and also look at the complexities that are involved when it involves intimate partners. Now for teenagers, is that taking another level of awareness and more time to bring attention to the fact that teenagers too can experience this kind of ...

SANTA ANA: Yeah. Thank you for asking that question because that in some ways gets to the real heart of it. Part of this is talking about young people and teenagers as people who have intimate relationships, as young people who will be having sex, as young people that will be engaged in a lot of behaviors that their parents or adults would rather not touch, right? We're talking about domestic violence. We are certainly working with young people who are parents or young people that are having sex and unprotected sex or sex that's coerced.

We're also talking about young people who wouldn't necessarily talk about these things with their parents. As I was saying before, there are developmental things going on with young people, so maybe they don't want to talk to their parents or their counselors or their teachers or people that they trust about what's going on in their lives or at least adults because they're developing a sense of themselves. That's one piece of it. A second piece of it is a cultural misconception about young people in intimate relationships. There's this idea, oh, teen TV. That must mean domestic violence or intimate partner violence light or it's not as serious. This is maybe slapping or some constant phone calls.

What's important to recognize about teen dating violence particularly as it affects young women, is that these are actually the highest rates of intimate partner violence, young women between ages say 18 and 24, right? There's the highest rate. There's also a lot of physical violence. With thinking about these relationships, it's important to recognize what exists culturally, which is a minimization of this experience but also recognizing that these young people at a particularly high amount of risk in this age group.

WOLF: Do the teenagers themselves sometimes have trouble as anyone perhaps does recognizing that they're in a situation that's perhaps becoming dangerous or abusive because when someone's been in a relationship for a long time, that's when those patterns maybe become the most unmanageable and the most evident, sometimes even to the victim. If someone's very young and less experienced in the world and perhaps being told that this is normal or this is what they're to expect, is that a challenge?

SANTA ANA: Sure. That challenge comes from all sides. On one hand, you have someone who's navigating their first intimate relationships. Constant phone calls, checking in, stalking, possessiveness might feel like it means that they really care about me, but if you're looking at it objectively, in some cases that might mean stalking. There's definitely that piece. Of course, there's a lot of, whether it be hormonal or cultural influences in which young people are thought to be in these really amazing, romantic relationships by the age of 16, there's also not necessarily the healthiest images out there in our culture about what young people in relationships are supposed to be like. It's really complicated.

WOLF: What are your goals as an attorney representing the victim? I assume obviously the safety of the victim's paramount, but considering your clients have a lifetime of relationships ahead of them, do you have goals also related to helping them learn how to navigate or change something in their lives so that they have healthy relationships?

SANTA ANA: Sure. Thank you for saying that. What I think we're driven by at Day One,is the desire to support that young person's development and their safety but most importantly their self determination. When I started doing this work, one of the most important lessons I learned was people said the opposite of domestic violence isn't safety. The opposite of domestic violence is self determination. When I understood that, I took it to mean that safety is important, but when you have a pattern of someone exercising power and control, stalking them, manipulating them, battering them, abusing them, you're taking away that person's agency, right?

When we talk about the opposite of domestic violence, it's empowering a young person, giving that person information, allowing them to make choices for themselves. Now, as someone who's not a teenager anymore, some of those choices may be choices I agree with and some of them might be things that I'm a little bit more concerned about. My role as an attorney is to advise them of the consequences of those choices but ultimately support them in their own growth about where that's going, right? When we talk about with adults or whoever are living abusive relationships they say it takes, what is that? The stat is 7 to 10 times for someone to leave an abusive relationship.

At Day One, we recognize that young people in abusive relationships, we're going to meet them whether it be that first time, that third time, that fifth time, or that seventh time when they're ready to leave or they might not be ready to leave and they want to switch something up. Our role is to give them legal advice, represent them where we can and just support their self determination. Part of that means safety and safety planning. Sometimes that means getting access to immigration remedies. That means talking to their teachers. That means talking to them about their home. Sometimes that involves litigation but really having that person's experience centered and affirming their choices is where we come from.

WOLF: Tell me a little bit about yourself, how you ended up in this role and doing this work.

SANTA ANA: Yeah. As a supervising attorney, I oversee our programs. I've been here for a couple of years. I found myself in this role because I was interested in working with young people and trying to figure out, for me it was thinking about what the end of domestic violence looked like, right? The end of domestic violence is a community and a legal system in a society where this isn't happening. For me, it happens from a young age. There are lessons that you learn from a young age. I'm excited to be a part of this work because I'm doing really interesting legal advocacy, but it's combined with prevention work and counseling in a way that isn't just isn't only interventionist, doesn't only intersect or intervene or become a part of this process when something is done wrong.

I'm a part of team that people that try to address it before. In the past I worked at an organization and worked specifically with LGBTQ clients. In that work, it was also working with a marginalized or historically under represented community at least in this arena. Working with marginalized communities and those contacts really think about me provide a lens on how our system needs to have nuanced responses to individuals and have these blanket statements on how we address this work cannot be seen outside of the lens or talking about age and gender and sexual orientation and race and poverty and ability and education and all of these other things.

For me, I got into this work because I like being in that complexity. Sometimes it's messy, but it's more authentic that way. Does that make sense?

WOLF: Sure. It sounds like you feel maybe you can have more of an impact if you work with a younger population. You're sort of ...

SANTA ANA: Yeah. I'm always learning things from the young people I work with. I did a workshop last week at a high school here in New York City. Whether it be young people's vocabulary to understanding what apps they're using to how they talk about their relationships, there's obviously very serious and intensive litigation that happens, but there's also can be a lighter side when we get to connect with young people who are exploring relationships and love.

WOLF: Let me ask you one more thing because you mentioned technology before. How does that play a role in your young people's lives in terms of making them perhaps more open to being victims? I don't know, in terms of your being working as an attorney, maybe gathering evidence and such.

SANTA ANA: Yeah. When we work with young people, their access to technology and communication through social media, through apps, through cell phones, through online interactions are so embedded in how they have relationships that it's a double edged sword because on one hand there can be a lot of documentation about text messages and emails and Facebook messages and tweets and Instagrams, but at the same time, what's challenging about it is that there are a lot of risks when you put that information out there. A lot of young people experience technology abuse. There's a lot of things that are going on with, say, sexting where the exchange of sexually explicit or intimate messages amongst young people.

What happens is is that young people, because they're so connected, have a sense of privacy or intimacy in exchanges with other people online. I would say that those exchanges and that intimacy is entirely real because those connections are real. However, that sense of privacy is entirely false. While you can create these intimate connections, those messages can be sent to your partner's friends, their friends, your teachers, your parents and can be put on the internet. We're in this stage where while these connections are real, that privacy is entirely fake and runs into a bunch of risks around that.

The only other thing that I would say around that is that as an attorney it can be hard to litigate these things because in some cases the technology is a couple of steps ahead of the law. Many of these apps are based out of Canada or it's not so easy to get information from them. Litigation around this stuff can be also really difficult.

WOLF: It doesn't make it easier necessarily that you have evidence recorded somewhere.

SANTA ANA: I would love to talk to someone who's doing this work 20 years ago because I bet they probably have a different set of challenges. While there is an opportunity for evidence I would just say there's other challenges. One other things that I would say is that I recently worked with a young person who told me that they didn't have voice mail. The only way to contact them was through text. Again, it's like flipping modifying understanding of how people interact in order to meet where a young person's at. That's probably going to change in another 5 years. It might be some, I don't know, more immediate way to connect with someone other than text.

WOLF: Through implants in our heads.

SANTA ANA: Right, exactly.

WOLF: Listen, thank you so much. This has been fascinating. Good luck with your continued work.

SANTA ANA: Thanks, anytime.

WOLF: I've been speaking with SANTA ANA Santa Ana, who is the supervising attorney at Day One based here in Manhattan. To find out more about Day One, you can visit their website which is …


WOLF: To find out more about the Youth Offender Domestic Violence Court, you can visit You can also visit that website to hear more podcasts. You can also subscribe to our podcast on iTunes. You can also leave a review there. You can also visit Court Innovation on our Facebook page. Thank you very much for listening. I am Rob Wolf. Stay tuned for more podcasts in the future.


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