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The Sad Facts About Teen Dating Violence

Do you remember jumping off the monkey bars and a parent or teacher telling you to stop before you get hurt? But then you ignored them and continued to jump anyway. And before you knew it, all it took was one wrong landing and your arm is broken moments later. You find yourself laying there wondering how you are going to tell the very same people who told you to stop, that you need help; fear of being shamed, or embarrassed. But there they are to pick you back up and take you to get a cast, comforting you while you wait, putting aside the frustration that they told you to quit jumping and just assuming that you’ll learn your lesson for next time.

As I tell this to the students who I am presenting to that day, they chuckle as they remember the time the were in this situation. The smiles turn to sadness as I then continue with, “that’s what it can feel like to the teens who are dealing with teen dating violence.” As I look around the room, faces turn red and others make eye contact with each other. Either they know someone dealing with it, or they are going through it themselves. 75% of Texas 16-24-year-olds have either experienced dating violence or know another young person who has.

I always ask them what they think of when they hear the word violence, or abuse. They don’t hesitate to say fighting, hitting, kicking, punching, etc. This is why it is hard for teens and others to recognize the signs of dating violence, because there’s a blurred idea that it is only physical. Teen dating violence is defined as the physical, psychological, emotional or sexual violence within a dating relationship, including stalking.  It can occur in person or electronically and can occur between a current or former dating partner.

Teens vicariously live through technology, where connections, relationships and friendship or no longer exclusively in person. They can talk to whoever they want at any time, any place. But, because of this:

  • Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year.
  • Victims of digital abuse and harassment are 2 times as likely to be physically abused, 2.5 times as likely to be psychologically abused, and 5 times as likely to be sexually coerced.
  • 1 in 4 dating teens is abused or harassed online or through texts by their partners
  • 1 in 5 victims say they experienced digital abuse or harassment at school and during school hours (most takes place away from school grounds).

Have you been concerned for someone’s well-being and noticed changes? Those changes could be a result of being a victim of dating violence. The National Domestic Violence Hotline listed signs as a checklist to bring awareness of what this can look like to outsiders:

  • Their partner puts them down in front of other people
  • They are constantly worried about making their partner angry
  • They make excuses for their partner’s behavior
  • Their partner is extremely jealous or possessive
  • They have unexplained marks or injuries
  • They’ve stopped spending time with friends and family
  • They are depressed or anxious, or you notice changes in their personality

According to Love is Respect, “82% of parents feel confident that they could recognize the signs if their child was experiencing dating abuse, a majority of parents (58%) could not correctly identify all the warning signs of abuse.

The question I often get from teens is, “why don’t they just leave?” While it can seem like there is a common sense answer; for those who are battling dating violence, there is no “easy” way out. They are being guilted into thinking it is their fault, they are terrified of the repercussions of leaving, being judged, not being believed, having a false idea of abuse being love, belief that dating violence is acceptable due to violence in the home or past experiences, etc.

Students are not equipped to deal with dating abuse – 57% say it is difficult to identify, and 58% say they don’t know how to help someone who’s experiencing it.

A few healthy things friends/family can assist a fellow classmate or friend with, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline is to:

  • Acknowledge that they are in a very difficult and scary situation, be supportive and listen
  • Be non-judgmental
  • Help them develop a safety plan
  • Encourage them to talk to people who can provide help and guidance
  • Remember that you cannot ‘rescue’ them

As a parent or guardian of the teen, also remember to:

  • Accept what your child is telling you, listen and be supportive. Even when you don’t understand or agree with their decisions, try not to judge them. It can make them feel worse.
  • Allow them to make up their own mind. Leaving an unhealthy or abusive relationship may be difficult and even dangerous. Avoid blaming or belittling comments. Abusive partners usually put down their victims regularly, so your loved one’s self-esteem may already be low.
  • Even though helping can be frustrating, don’t give up. More than anything, they need to know they can trust you and rely on you.
  • Don’t prevent them from seeing their abusive partner. This can cause them to feel as if they need to keep secrets from you, as well as feel as if decision-making is being taken away from them.

Posted by Crime Stoppers of Houston, Safe School Institute Team on 30 Jan 2020