More than half of America’s teens know friends who have experienced some sort of dating abuse, while one in four 11-14 year olds say that physical dating violence is a serious concern for their age group.1
That same survey indicated that although young people know relationship abuse to be a significant issue for their peers, only about half know the warning signs, and only slightly more know what they’d do if a friend came to them for help. In many situations, teens do not recognize they are being abused until serious emotional and/or physical damage is done.
Teenagers have the right to safety and to experience healthy relationships. Teen dating violence can be as serious as abuse perpetrated by adults. It may include hitting, yelling, threatening, name calling, sexual coercion or assault, and other forms of verbal, sexual, emotional, and physical abuse. The number of incidents and the severity of the abuse increases as the relationship continues. Very few teens reach out for help. Maine's domestic violence resource centers advocate for and educate teens, teachers, parents or other concerned people about dating violence.
It is impossible to say for sure who will or won’t abuse their partner. However, there are factors that can indicate that the relationship is unhealthy, or even dangerous.
Does your boyfriend/girlfriend:
- Expect you to check in frequently, or to always report where you are going to be?
- Get angry if plans change or things don’t go as planned?
- Act possessive or jealous of you?
- Try to control what you do, where you go, what you wear?
- Try to prevent you from spending time with other friends and family?
- Act like everything in the relationship is always your fault?
- Pressure you to go further sexually than you want to go, or to do things that you are not completely comfortable with?
- Ever hit or push you, or otherwise physically hurt you?
- Use technology to keep track of you—for example, by hacking into your social media, or keeping tabs via your cell phone?
- Pressure you to send naked photos?
- Put you down, call you names, or make you feel badly about yourself?
- Get mad over seemingly little things?
- Make threats—like to leave you, to hurt you or your pets, or to commit suicide if you end the relationship?
- Worry about your safety?
- Believe that if only you could do the right thing, or change your behavior in the right way, things would get better?
- Make excuses for your partner?
- Worry your partner will trick you into pregnancy, or give you a sexually transmitted infection?
- Try to defuse the situation by always giving in, or changing how you dress or act?
- Keep from spending time with people you care about, to make your partner happy?
- Feel scared that it is never going to get any better?
- Feel like you can’t talk about your relationship to anyone?
- Stay in the relationship only because you are afraid of what your partner would do if you broke up?
You may have answered YES to some of these questions and still think “It’s not that bad.” However, you should never feel scared, pressured, humiliated or controlled by someone else. You should feel loved, respected, and free to be yourself. Your feelings are important. Advocates at your local domestic violence resource center are available to listen 24-hours a day.
Call 1.866.834.HELP to connect with an advocate in your local area today.
Why don’t teens tell friends or parents about dating violence?
They may be:
- Afraid their parents will make them break up.
- Embarrassed and ashamed.
- Afraid of getting hurt.
- Convinced it is their fault or that their parents will blame them or will be disappointed.
- Confused—they may think this is what a relationship is all about.
- Afraid of losing privileges like being able to stay out late or use the car.
Safety Planning for Teens
If you answered "yes" to some of the questions above, consider the following ways you can seek support and safety for yourself. Depending on what is happening in your relationship, not all of these tips may apply. However, please keep in mind that abusive behaviors often escalate over time, so what starts out seeming small could become something much more dangerous. Consider calling your local domestic violence resource center; an advocate can help you develop a safety plan that fits your situation specifically.
- Tell someone you trust: school guidance counselors, teachers, church members, coaches, employers, neighbors, parents, families, and hotlines. Consider carefully who you tell; friends might be allied with your abuser.
- Tell a trusted friend or family member where you are going, and if your plans change.
- Consider changing your route to/from school.
- Use a buddy system for going to school, classes and after school activities.
- If you get stranded, who could you call for a ride home?
- Keep a journal describing the abuse; keeping a dated record of abuse can be helpful if you decide to use the civil and criminal justice systems.
- Change the passwords to your social media accounts and your cell phone, and change your cell number if possible.
- Keep a way to call for help and any legal documentation, such as a protection order, on you at all times.
- Consider a code word that will let friends know you are in trouble.
- Remember: you deserve support. If the first person you tell makes you feel badly, don’t let it stop you from reaching out again.
- If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
12008 Tween and Teen Dating Violence and Abuse Survey