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February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

For many teens, a new relationship can be exciting. However, we know that sometimes relationships can mean disappointment, broken hearts, and even abuse.

According to Love is Respect, an organization dedicated to engaging, educating and empowering young people to prevent and end abusive relationships, an estimated 1 in 3 teens experience some form of relationship abuse, and two thirds of them never tell anyone.

Nationwide, youth age 12 to 19 experience high rates of rape and sexual assault. Studies show that approximately 10% of adolescents report being the victim of physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner during the previous year. Among adult victims of rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner, 22% of women and 15% of men first experienced some form of partner violence between 11 and 17 years of age (National Center for Injury Prevention and Control Division of Violence Prevention).

Teen dating violence takes a significant toll on physical and mental health, education, and relationships. Youth victims of dating violence are more likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety, engage in risky behaviors with drugs, tobacco, and alcohol, antisocial behaviors like bullying or theft, and to think about suicide.

What are the signs?

Being able to tell the difference between healthy, unhealthy, and abusive relationships can be more difficult than you think, especially for adolescents. Although there are many signs to pay attention to, look for these common warning signs of dating abuse (via Break the Cycle):

  • Checking cell phones, emails or social networks without permission

  • Extreme jealousy or insecurity

  • Constant belittling or put-downs

  • Explosive temper

  • Isolation from family and friends

  • Making false accusations

  • Constant mood swings towards you

  • Physically inflicting pain or hurt in any way

  • Possessiveness

  • Telling someone what they can and cannot do

  • Repeatedly pressuring someone to have sex

How can I help?

It can be difficult for teens to open up to abuse, and many fear that the adults in their life will blame them or react angrily. Like any form of advocacy, it is important to be supportive and listen with empathy and without judgment. Here are some ways that you can help support teens you suspect as being victims of dating violence:

1) Show concern – Some teens may not necessarily recognize behaviors as abusive or may not want to leave the relationship. When talking to the teen, be supportive and let them know you have noticed certain things that concern you. Ask them if they have noticed the same and how that behavior makes them feel. Help the teen identify these behaviors by connecting them to resources or sharing information about healthy relationship signs rather than talking about the person specifically.

For example, instead of saying, “Your partner is controlling, and you shouldn’t be with them,” you can say, “I’m concerned that your partner texts you to see where you are so often. How do you feel when you get those back to back messages from them?”

2) Keep Your Communication Door Open –What you see or hear may make you frustrated and upset. If this happens, try to stay calm. Resist the urge to give ultimatums or punishment. People in abusive relationships may only choose to confide in one person first, and that first impression matters. If you cast blame or tell them what to do, you may cause them to shut down and this cuts them off from support. Instead, let them know that you want to help and can connect them to resources when they are ready.

3) Be prepared – Educate yourself on topics related to dating abuse and what healthy relationships look like. Share them with the teen. Be open and willing to learn. As such, you can model good behavior and be more informed on deciding next steps together. The decision about next steps will ultimately need to come from them, but you can play a role in helping them identify safe options.

24/7 National U.S. Hotlines

Teen Dating Abuse Helpline: 1-866-331-9474

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673

Trevor Lifeline (for LGBTQ* youth): 1-866-488-7386

National Runaway Safeline: 1-800-786-2929

National Domestic Violence Hotline - 1-800-799-7233

National Hotline for Crime Victims: 1-855-484-2846

National Street Harassment Hotline: 1-855-897-5910

Love Is Respect: 1-866-331-9474 or text loveis to 22522

Crisis Text Line: HOME to 741741

The resources and information in this blog post were gathered from:

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Because Sexual Assault Affects us All

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