Last updated on Jun 21st, 2021 at 12:25 pm

“It’s not your fault that you’re always wrong, the weak ones are there to justify the strong…” – (Marliyn Manson)

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Rock star Marilyn Manson, with creepy contact lenses and stark stage make up, was certainly unusual, sometimes bizarre…

He didn’t aim to be charming or attractive. His entire persona was a performance. He wasn’t a man you’d want to meet in a dark alley. And yet, to Evan Rachel Wood, he was exciting.

She entered into a relationship with him while she was still a teenager. She now alleges that he horrifically abused her, controlling and manipulating her for years. Journalists nod knowingly. Barbara Ellen from The Guardian claims that he has been hiding this abuse in plain sight in this insightful piece.

It is not only the famous who experience abusive relationships

Marilyn Manson is famous, and in many ways, extraordinary. His outward appearance aims to shock. The story has attracted loathing, flaming rage and uneasy questions.

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However, the story of gender-based violence and abuse is not an unusual one. The Centre for Disease Control shares that violence within dating relationships is common, and can have a terrible impact on teenagers.

Teens who experience dating violence are vulnerable to substance abuse, anxiety, depression and even suicidal thoughts. Violence may be psychological, sexual, where the victim is pressured into sexual activity, or physical. Perpetrators may also use harassment, which is repeated and unwanted attention.

Older partners have a greater degree of power: The story of Jamie*

When a partner is much older, like in the 17-year age gap between Marilyn Manson and Evan Rachel Wood, there will automatically be a power imbalance within the relationship.

The story of Jamie* provides an example of how powerful an older man’s authority can be. Jamie met Neil* when she was only sixteen. He was eighteen years her senior. Like Evan Rachel Wood, she believed he could offer her a different world.

Neil demanded she run around after him, made uncomfortable demands, sent her repeated messages and became angry when she didn’t respond instantly. He manipulated and controlled her.

“Jamie eventually blamed herself”

While she initially felt uncomfortable at some of Neil’s behaviours, Jamie eventually blamed herself.

She believed that because Neil was older, he had more wisdom. Neil criticised her lack of communication skills and pulled her down. Stifled her resentment as she tried hard to please him. Jamie eventually became so anxious and under confident that she started to see a psychotherapist.

This therapist focused on Jamie, her needs and what she wanted from her life. Jamie was able to leave the abusive relationship with Neil.

What can parents and communities do to help prevent teens and young women from becoming trapped in the cycle of abuse?

1.     Challenge traditional gender roles

Youth.Gov emphasise the importance of challenging traditional gender roles. Girls are often encouraged to make relationships work no matter what cost this has to themselves. This starts as early as recognising the influence of fairy tales on your daughter.

Beauty and the Beast, for example, tells young girls that the hideous behaviour of the Beast can be transformed with love. Girls are often taught to be kind, to understand and to remain unassertive.

Encourage your daughter to stand up for herself, to negotiate and to question. Break the myth that love will conquer all, that a handsome prince will fall instantly in love with her simply because she is beautiful, and that they will all live happily ever after.

Likewise, it is important to challenge the myth that boys should always be powerful and in control, and should not show emotions.

Boys should be encouraged to ask for support when they need it. Breaking down the toxic belief that masculinity is equated with control over others is important. It is equally important to give value to personality characteristics such as gentleness and empathy in males.

Toxic masculinity often defines these qualities as a weakness.

2.     Challenge bullying behaviour

Cape Town psychologist, Gary Koen, author of Know Your Teenager explains that when schools emphasise hierarchy and authority due to age alone, this often encourages bullying.

He stresses the recognising the importance of compassion or kindness. Gary also points out the importance of making young bullies responsible for their actions. While it might be common to see bullies as victims with a terrible home life (and this might be true), this does not mean that a bully can hurt other people.

Gary explains that once called out on their bad behaviour, a bully will first ask to be understood. While this can happen later, a bully must first understand the impacts of his/her actions on other people.

Never make excuses for bullies and encourage your children to report any bullying behaviour to an adult.

3.     Peer support and the importance of safe spaces

Gretna Kennedy studied domestic violence for her master’s thesis in diversity studies.

In this study, one of her participants shares that it was only when friends started to comment on the violence within her dating relationship that she was able to leave her abusive partner.

Before this, she hadn’t recognised that her relationship was abusive. By training adolescents to recognise abuse, peers are more able to make interventions on behalf of their friends.

4.     Inform adolescents about rape myths

Adolescents who are trained to understand rape myths are capable of intervening when they witness a friend being harassed or intimidated.

Schools and campuses in particular can offer programs where they train adolescents to understand what bullying and sexual harassment is. By sharing this information with both girls and boys, they are able to create benevolent social spaces.

Encouraging peers to intervene reduces the risk of bystanders allowing abuse to go unchecked.

5.     Encourage your child to question

When an adolescent becomes involved with an older adult, they might believe this adult has interesting or exciting ways of negotiating the world that s/he does not. Schools and families might sometimes expect that adults are given authority simply based on age.

While it is important for young children to be kept out of danger, reason with your child and explain your motives. As your child grows up, encourage them to question adults and to trust their own intuition or judgement.

Respect your child’s decisions when it comes to engaging with older adults.

6.     Jamie’s lessons in hindsight

Jamie explains that in hindsight, she can see that there were problems from the start.

Neil, despite efforts at initial kindness, made her feel uncomfortable. He abused substances and sent her many unwanted messages. She complied to many of his instructions with resentment. Had she been able to trust her feelings, she would have left the relationship early on.

Neil would make commands such as “I’m only going to tell you once.”

Had Jamie thought it normal to question or ignore an older adult, she would have done so. Instead, she believed it was her responsibility to please. She found his aggressive masculine energy oppressive and very threatening. It was her therapist who finally gave her permission to leave.

Structural, cultural and social myths create conditions for teenagers to take part in abusive relationships.

There are many organisations who offer help:

If you believe a child or friend is being abused, seek professional help.

Some organisations include (but are not limited to)

*Names changed to protect the individuals’ identities

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