Dating is an inevitable part of life that many experience for the first time as a teenager. Healthy relationships, however, require a level of maturity, proper communication skills, and a lot of hard work that may not be present in teens. As a result, many teen relationships – nearly one third – are characterized as either unhealthy or violent. Understanding what teen dating violence is, what it means for those involved, and why it happens is an important first step in prevention.
Teens are also sponges – they absorb what they hear and see in the world and relationships around them. Violence in entertainment is everywhere and, sadly, has been normalized to a certain degree. Behaviors are mimicked, so it is not uncommon for teens to think the unhealthy relationships that are portrayed are normal or just a part of life. This belief is more easily accepted if teens witness abusive or unhealthy relationships at home as well. If they don’t know what a healthy relationship looks like early on, how would they be able to recognize what’s unhealthy? Parents – we encourage you to talk to your teens about what a healthy relationship looks even if it isn’t being fully modeled in your own home.
Keep in mind that abuse comes in many forms—it’s not just physical. Dating violence is a pattern, so be aware of the early warning signs and what could become a series of abusive behaviors over time. As you continue to read, take mental notes of the following warning signs to help you better identify if abuse is present in your own relationship or someone else’s that you may care about.
What Are the Different Types of Dating Abuse?
Emotional abuse is the most common type of abuse in teenage relationships and is a form of control that involves subjecting another person to a behavior that causes a diminished “sense of identity, dignity, and self-worth.” However, emotional abuse tends to be talked about much less than other, more immediately dangerous types of abuse like physical and sexual because of the momentarily invisible repercussions. Verbal abuse may not cause physical damage, but it does cause emotional pain and scarring for an already very emotionally-vulnerable teen.
Signs of emotional and verbal abuse include behaviors such as yelling, swearing, threats, intimidation, name calling or insults, mocking, belittling, humiliation, isolation, being ignored and often denial of the abuse, and/or blaming the victim. Remember: emotional abuse is never the victim’s fault.
When we hear the words “physical abuse,” our minds usually tend to go right to the image of a bleeding nose, black and blue eye, or bruised-up arms. Often times, physical abuse is not seen as such unless it’s extreme. Even if the incidents of physical abuse seem minor compared to other stories, it’s still abuse. There are no “better” or “worse” forms of abuse. If someone is pushed or their arm is pulled, it’s still physical pain. Physical abuse is any intentional and unwanted contact with your body that includes a range of acts.
Some examples include pulling of hair, scratching, punching, biting, strangling, or kicking. Throwing something at you such as a phone, shoe, book, or other easily accessible object is also included. Even the act of someone grabbing your face to make you look at them is not okay. Even if it’s only happened once or twice, studies show that if a partner intentionally injures their significant other once, they’re likely to continue to do so.
Surprising fact: Did you know that one in 10 high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend?
Not all sexual assaults are violent “attacks.” Some think if the victim didn’t resist, that it doesn’t count as abuse. It is important to know that just because the victim didn’t say “no,” doesn’t mean that they meant “yes.” When someone doesn’t resist an unwanted sexual advance, it doesn’t mean that they consented. This myth can be damaging because sometimes physically resisting can put a victim at a greater risk for further physical or sexual abuse. It also makes it more difficult for a victim to speak out and, in return, more likely to blame themselves. Whether they felt pressured, intimidated or obligated, to act a certain way, sexual abuse is never the victim’s fault. Sexual abuse refers to any action that pressures or coerces someone to do something sexually they don’t want to do.
Some examples of sexual assault/abuse include, but aren’t limited to, unwanted kissing or touching, using sexual insults toward someone, pressuring or threatening someone to have sex or perform sexual acts, unwanted rough or violent sexual activity, sexual contact with someone who is very drunk, drugged, unconscious, or otherwise unable to give a clear “yes” or “no,” or keeping someone from protecting themselves from sexually transmitted infections.
Surprising fact: Did you know being physically or sexually abused makes teen girls six times more likely to become pregnant and twice as likely to get a STI?
Often this behavior is a form of verbal or emotional abuse perpetrated online. Has anyone ever texted you repeatedly because you didn’t reply to them quickly enough? Have you ever received sexually explicit photos (a.k.a. nudes) without asking for them? Or maybe someone has demanded your passcode or access to your phone and social media. These behaviors are not okay and are a form of digital abuse. You never deserve to be mistreated, online or off.
You may be experiencing digital abuse if your partner uses your social media account without permission, demands access to your phone, looks through your phone often to check in on who you’re texting/phone call history, posts embarrassing photos of you online, spreads rumors about you online or through text, creates a profile page about you without your permission, pressures you to send explicit video or sexts, tells you who you can or can’t be friends with on Facebook and other sites or uses social media platforms to keep constant tabs on you. Another form of abuse is using sexual or nude photos to blackmail, control, harass, or coerce another person. In a healthy relationship, all communication is respectful whether in person, online, or by phone.
Take the time to navigate and get to know your privacy settings within your personal online accounts. Social networks such as Facebook allow the user to control how their information is shared and who has access to it. These are often easily manageable and are found in the privacy section of the site. Remember, registering for some applications (apps) requires you to change your privacy settings. Also, always ask your friends if it’s okay for you to check them in at a location or tag them in a photo before posting it.
A surprising 3.4 million people are stalked every year in the United States with the ages of 18-24 experiencing the highest rates. Most people assume that stalkers are strangers, but actually, three in four victims are harassed by someone they know!
While the actual legal definition varies from one state to another, here are some examples of what stalkers may do: They may show up at your home or place of employment unannounced or uninvited, wait at places you hang out, damage your car or other property, constantly call you and hang up, leave unwanted gifts or flowers, or use social networking sites to track you.
Stalking can be a scary and overwhelming situation for anyone. It’s important that you save any evidence such as voicemails, text messages, letters, photos and cards, or unwanted gifts if you find yourself being stalked. It is also important to hang on to contact information for any witnesses.
In some situations, a protection order may be necessary. If you feel you are in immediate danger, call 911 and report everything that has happened to the police.
Preventing Teen Dating Violence
It is important to encourage open and free communication between teenagers and authority figures as teens may not always feel comfortable opening up with personal relationship matters. Many victims of teen dating violence do not seek assistance or guidance because they are embarrassed, afraid of the repercussions from parents, or fearful of what their peers will think. Talking to teens – and making sure both boys and girls understand the importance of trust, respect, and honesty in relationships – can help to lay a foundation for intimate relationships. Encourage teens to speak to adults with whom they have an admiration and trust.
How Do I Get Help?
If you know of a teen or parent that could benefit from speaking to someone, please connect the National Dating Abuse Helpline, a project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, at 1-866-331-9474 (TTY: 1-866-331-8453), by texting “loveis” to 77054, or through live chat at loveisrespect.org.
Here at Cornerstone, we also love to help raise awareness about sexual risk avoidance and encourage programs that support healthy relationships. Please feel free to reach out to us at 717-442-3111 for further information on what we can provide you and your situation!
Healthy Relationships at Cornerstone
We at Cornerstone are here to help, too! A new arm of our ministry, called Healthy Relationships at Cornerstone, has recently gone out. We have certified Sexual Risk Avoidance instructors to share in our schools and youth groups. For more information from our CSR curriculum, to help with teen dating violence awareness, please text 717-219-4108.