The Facts on Teen Dating Violence

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month where advocates join together to raise awareness about dating violence and encourage communities to take action against it. According to the National Research Center on Dating Violence, there are approximately 1.5 million high school students nationwide who experience physical abuse from the person they’re dating each year. What’s more unfortunate is that 3 out of 4 parents have not talked to their children about domestic violence. Through VOA-GNY’s domestic violence programs, we can help teen survivors in need by providing adequate resources and safety plans.

What is teen dating violence?

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines teen dating violence as the physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional violence within a dating relationship. It is perpetrated by an adolescent (someone between the ages of 13 and 18) against a current or forming dating partner.

Teen abuse can manifest itself in similar ways to adult abuse — from stalking, sexual harassment, threats, or physical violence, to more subtle forms of abuse like insults, coercion, or social sabotage. It can occur in person or electronically, in threatening text messages or social media posts, stalking using GPS or Spyware, violating the privacy of someone’s cell phone, email or social media, or impersonating another person online.

Abusive teens use these patterns of violent and coercive behavior to gain power and maintain control over their dating partner. It’s important to understand that this happens in heterosexual, LGBT, and same-gender dating relationships.

While the manifestation of abuse is similar across all age groups, experiencing abuse during adolescence can shape a person’s perceptions and have lasting traumatic impacts. During puberty, teens can struggle with self-identity. Victims may withdraw from their families and caretakers and gravitate to alternative support systems. They may shut down or rebel against pressure. Abused teens may desire independence but lack decision-making experience. They may not trust adults, and may cope with victimization in ways that may be hard for others to understand.

As a result, teens that experience dating violence are more likely to have lower academic scores, and higher rates of substance abuse, mental health issues, aggressive behaviors, unplanned pregnancies, and suicide. They’re also more likely to carry violence into their adult relationships.

Who is at risk?

While dating violence can happen to anyone, according to the CDC, teens are more likely to have unhealthy relationships if they use alcohol or drugs, are depressed or anxious, have learning difficulties, have anger management issues, or multiple sex partners. Their surroundings also play a pertinent role. Teens who witness violence at home, among their peers, or have a history of bullying are more likely to fall into unhealthy relationships.

What are the signs? What should I do?

If you think someone you know is an abusive dating relationship, you should be wary of some signs. Teen abusers can exhibit excessive jealousy, may constantly want to know the whereabouts of their partner, or put pressure on their partner to have sex or take the relationship to the next level too quickly. They may exhibit very controlling or explosive behavior but won’t accept responsibility for their own actions. They may even refuse to allow a relationship to end.

If you suspect abuse, and the individual in question trusts you, you can speak to them. However, many times shame and fear can keep a person from disclosing the truth, and they may deny and refuse any assistance. The most you can do is assure this person that you are there for them and ready to assist when they ask. If they disclose information, do not impose your remedies on them. Do not tell them to leave. This is a decision they must make because it can be life-threatening if they are not ready and do not have a safety plan in place.

What is VOA doing to help?

VOA-Greater New York operates three domestic violence shelters and nine scattered-site safe dwellings that have interventions in place to help survivors of abuse regain safety and independence. We provide resources to those who want to seek counseling, and safety plans for those in our shelters and safe dwellings. These safety plans address their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, and include disengaging from social media, turning off location devices and not using ATM machines in their surrounding areas. We help them plan ways to move safely around the city and know what they can do should they run into their abuser or their abuser’s family and friends. VOA-GNY also provides education on teen dating and abuse in schools throughout our community, as well as to local organizations like Boys Town.

The most important thing we can do to arm our children against teen dating violence is to be available and lead by example. Cultivate their self-esteem and address situations and problems in non-reactive ways, which helps preserve self-esteem. Teach them how to manage situations and how to cope with the difficulties they face while going through adolescence. Keep the lines of communication open and treat them with respect. As mentioned before, violence breeds violence and the only way to combat violence is by minimizing the trauma that is such a large contributor.

By Ana Rolon, Director of Domestic Violence Shelters at VOA-GNY. 

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