Introduction of Equip-Liberia-trained community mobilizers. During the need assessment

 

Introduction

“Throughout adolescence, teens become increasingly
involved in a wide array of romantic experiences, including romantic and sexual
relationships. Being in a dating relationship — where youth spend time with a
current or potential romantic partner — is one common pattern, and is
considered an important developmental marker for teens. Dating is associated
with both positive and negative developmental outcomes”. Child Trends Databank

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Gender-based
violence (GBV) against women and girls has over the last twenty years become
increasingly recognized as a serious global health, human rights, and
development issue. Research now consistently confirms that GBV has grave
consequences for female’s physical, sexual, and mental health, as well as
implications for the health and well-being of families and communities.1

 

Adolescent dating violence is
commonly thought of as a physical violence against one’s romantic partner, but
actually it covers a broader range of behaviors. The Center for Disease Control
and Prevention (CDC) defines teen dating violence as “physical (hitting, punching, slapping, shoving, kicking), sexual (unwanted
touching or kissing, forced or coerced engagement in sexual acts), or
psychological (threats, name calling, screaming, yelling, ridiculing, spreading
rumors, isolation, intimidation, stalking, and, more recently, using technology
to harass or intimidate by texting, calling, and/or bullying or monitoring via
social networking sites) violence within a dating relationship, and can result
in even death for the victim”2.
Further the CDC stated, “In addition to
the risk for injury and death, victims of dating violence are more likely to
engage in risky sexual behavior, unhealthy dieting behaviors, substance use,
and suicidal ideation/attempts”.3

 

In
June 2017 Equip Liberia designed and conducted a community-based assessment of
selected communities in three of Liberia Counties.  The assessment was designed to ascertain how the
current issues with teen dating relationships, the associated violence and explore
what can possibly be done to remedy the situations.

 

Methodology

The need
assessment team was led by the Equip Liberia program manager, Gerald B. Mesleh,
with a team comprised of Equip-Liberia-trained community mobilizers.

 

During the
need assessment the methods used was focus group discussions. The same
discussion topic guides were used to help solicit information about general
problems experienced by girls and boy, use of power and the consequences, and
parental involvement in dating between youth of ages thirteen (13) and nineteen
(19). The assessment team tried to facilitate an open and organic dialogue
based on a compromise between topics prioritized by the focus group discussion
moderators, interviewers and the interviewees. The discussion guidelines were
designed by Elite Research Consultancy.

 

Focus Group Discussions

Focus
group discussions were held with mixed-gender groups of parents4,
girls and boys. Parents and ranged in age between 22 and 65 years of age, while
female and male children and youth ranged in age between 13 and 19 years. One
focus group discussion was held with each of the three respondent categories in
a community. During the need assessment, three discussions each were conducted
in one community per county in three counties: Margibi, Montserrado and Nimba5,
resulting in a total of nine (9) focus group discussions with a total respondent
group of approximately 144 people.

 

Limitations

The study may be limited by the use of convenience
sampling method. The sample of respondents for the study was chosen for
convenience and may not be representative of the total population. Furthermore, the assessment team only visited one community per
county. More communities could have been included, but it is unclear as to
whether this would have yielded different results; responses were quite
consistent from one community to the next.

 

Another
limitation was the experience of the research team: as mentioned previously,
the team was comprised of community-identified youth peer animators and Equip
Liberia social workers. While involving the youth in the research created a
research environment that was conducive to youth participation, it would have
been preferable to provide at least two weeks of training to the peer animators
beforehand.

 

Key Participants

The assessment was carried out the Equip Liberia
trained mobilizers already working within the communities on sexual
gender-based violence and water sanitation and hygiene issues. Interviewee of
the study comprise of community boys and girls between ages 13 and 19, and
parents aged at least 22 and not more than 65.

Key Findings

The following summary of
findings is based on the primary issues identified in focus group discussions
conducted in three Liberian communities. Youth are being taught that the
eligible age for having sexual relationship is at least 18 years, but many
community youth have had their first intercourse by age 14, as a result off
pressure from peer to use sex to make money for material goods, or from their
parents who want them to be early bread winners.

 

Pressure

Asked how people start a relationship,
both boy and girl respondents cited pressure from their friends and the love
for money to pay for material things. A female respondent said “some parents can send their children to
look for money to feed the home”. Other respondents also offered the
following:

“Boys go after girls because of the way the girl can
dress” (Boy Respondent).

“Some parents complain about feeding you every day and
you don’t want to do something for yourself. That can encourage the girl to
look for boyfriend” (Girl Respondent).

When asked about parental
involvements in their dating, respondents indicated that their partner are
often kept secret from the parents for either fear that they might be forced
into early marriage, or the high likelihood of the partners not being
committed. One of the boy respondents said:

“When you show the girl to your parents, she will go be eating6 all round,
then anything that happens to her will be on your head.”

Initiating Sex and Use of Force

It is almost difficult to find
teen dating. Many Liberian kids are taught that the appropriate age to begin dating,
and start having sex is eighteen years of age. Regardless of these teachings,
majority of adolescent have been exposed to sexual intercourse by age 14 (at
the earliest, age 12) owing to their belief that “dating can waste people time” (Boy respondent). One of the girls’
respondents mentioned that:

“In our community, even some 11-years-old girls and boys
have done man-and-woman business.7”

Sexual intercourse is seen a
return for favor performed by boys. Sex has become so widespread among teen
that one boy respondent mentioned that “it
is not possible to date for more than a day”. Another one said “I can want do thing to the girl the same day
I approach her”. Another person said

 

Some exposure to sex are as a
result of force by the male. These begin by the boy advancing unwanted touches
on sensitive parts of the female body which sparks up the felling. A girls
risks being force into sex if she visits a boy’s home while nobody is around.

 

Additional responses to
initiation of sex in a teen going out were:

“Girl can’t ask me for something then I give it to her
free” (Boy respondent).

“If you continue to not agree to do something with the
boy, sometimes the boy can carry you to go drink, then we can put something in
you liquor to make you drunk, then he can do something to you” (Girl
respondent).

These teen sex relationships are often not free of
violence. Boys are more likely than girls to be perpetrators of either physical
abuse or sexual abuse or the combination of both8.
When asked about violence in the relationship, boys almost never reported girls
perpetrating violence against them, as compared to boys being the perpetrators
of violence. This difference may be due to societal stigma of boys hitting
girls. Even so, several studies have found that boys and girls are almost
equally likely to be perpetrators of teen relationship violence.9
One of the boys said “if my girl acts rude of me, or if I see her with
different boy, I will put slap in her ear”. Asked what the girl would also
do if he the boy was the one misbehaving or standing with another girl, another
boy replied “…but I am the man”.

Although there is not complete consensus among
researchers, studies have found that the following are risk factors for
perpetration of teen dating violence:10

•      Poor
communication/social skills

•      Inability to manage
anger

•      Belief in traditional
gender roles

•      Association with
friends who perpetrate dating violence

•      Being a witness to
family violence

•      Exposure to community
violence

•      Acceptance of the use
of dating violence

•      Use of alcohol and/or
drugs

Research has also shown that low self-esteem
correlates with dating violence perpetration for boys and with dating violence
victimization for girls.11

Consequences

Sometimes when these violence occur, few people
would complain to their parents to advice the partner, but in most cases these issues
are resolved between the pair. For most girls, they prefer to not to do
anything about the abuse because it seems normal for that to happen. Some of
the other responses they gave for what happens if they were abuse are:

“Everybody know that the boy is my boyfriend, so
reporting him will not be good”. (Girl respondent).

“I can’t report my own boyfriend so the police can’t
jail him… my name will spoil in the community. (Girl respondent).

“If my girl slap me for any reason, I will beat her
back. I can’t report it so people can’t say that I am lazy” (Boy respondent).

Not surprisingly,
victims of dating violence can experience a range of physical, emotional,
social, and academic problems. Pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections
(STIs) are major concerns. Dating violence among adolescents is associated with
increased risk of engaging in physical fights, risky sexual behaviors, substance
abuse and emotional problems. Victims may suffer from problems with self-esteem,
and often continue to experience patterns of violence in their future
relationships.12

Conclusion

Research suggests that teen
dating can promote positive development. Where teen dating is common, it is
part of developmental and socialization processes. As such, some risk taking is
inevitable, and there is evidence that unhealthy relationships produce harm. Nonconsensual
sex remains a major concern in our society. Date rape is a constant worry.

 

Home, school, and community all
have a role to play in maximizing good outcomes and preventing and minimizing
the impact of any harm. For schools, this involves a major focus on
facilitating social-emotional learning and development, with concerns for such
matters as sex education and prevention.

 

Economic constraints that many
families endure in Liberia are increasingly forcing females, especially
adolescent girls, to use their sexuality as an economic survival strategy. But
respondents consistently stated that, due to pressure from parents or friends,
girls often cannot refuse the sexual advances.

 

The abysmally low human
development indicators related to the protracted war in Liberia may make the
immediate personal benefits of an abusive relationship outweigh the
reproductive health risks, especially from the perspective of an adolescent
girl with limited access to information about the risks. Clearly, both males
and females, young and old need access to education on the exploitative and
abusive nature of these relationships, and about safe sexual behavior.

 

Schools play a very powerful
role in the development of individual gender identities and reflect and shape
the dynamics within communities. Attitudes and behaviors learned in school set
in place patterns which can continue throughout a person’s life.

Recommendations

To provide an initial framework
for addressing and preventing dating violence among Liberian teenagers,

 

•     
It is obligatory on parents,
guardians, schools, and society to enhance ways of promoting positive social-emotional
development for all young people. This includes modeling, direct teaching, and providing
guidance and support for safely engaging in responsible and healthy
relationships.

 

•     
Efforts must be made to break
down the culture of impunity around violence, ensuring that people who commit abuse
are prosecuted.

 

•     
Parents should refrain from pressuring
their children to becoming bread winners for the home.

 

•     
Train public health nurses,
school health nurses, MCH practitioners, pediatric health providers, mental
health providers, nutritionists, and other service providers to identify teen
dating violence and respond using appropriate interventions.

 

•     
Develop and conduct public
education campaigns that teach families/ parents, communities, and adolescents
about teen.

 

•     
Identify evidence-based and
promising practices and work with internal and external programs to implement
and evaluate them.

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