When asked about problems facing young people today, you might think about drug use, teen pregnancy, depression, or cyber bullying. These are all important issues, but did you know that dating violence is one of the most prevalent issues affecting “tweens” and teens between ages 11 and 19? One study shows 1.5 million high school students have experienced some type of physical abuse by a dating partner in the past year.
Approximately one in three adolescent girls in the United States is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner. This number far exceeds victimization rates for other types of violence affecting youth. Shockingly, young people ages 12-19 experience the highest rates of rape and sexual assault, and people 18-19 experience the highest rates of stalking.
One in three teens reports knowing a friend or peer who has been hit, punched, kicked, slapped or physically injured by a partner.
What is dating violence? Similar to domestic violence, dating violence is a pattern of gaining power and control over another person in a dating relationship. Abuse isn’t necessarily physical. There are several ways an abuser may gain power and control over his/her partner:
1. Isolation/Extreme Jealousy
Controlling what another does, who she/he sees and talks to, what she/he reads, where he/she goes, limiting outside involvement, may encourage victim to spend less time in afterschool activities, uses jealousy to justify actions
2. Sexual Coercion
Pressures partner to engage in unwanted sexual activity, makes threats to get him/her to have sex, gets her pregnant, may sabotage birth control, gets someone drunk or drugs them to get sex
Makes or carries out threats to do something to hurt another, threatens to leave or commit suicide, to report her/him to police, makes him/her do illegal things
4. Peer Pressure
Threatens to expose someone’s weakness or spread rumors, tells malicious lies about an individual to a peer group
5. Anger/Emotional Abuse
Puts her/him down, making her/him feels bad about herself or himself, name calling, makes her/him think she/he’s crazy, plays mind games, humiliates him/her, makes him/her feel guilty
6. Using Social Status
Abuser makes all the decisions and is the one to define men’s and women’s roles, Abuser is popular at school so he/she uses this against the victim (no one will believe the victim because everyone likes the abuser)
Makes someone afraid by using looks, gestures, smashing things, destroying property, abusing pets, displaying weapons
Makes light of the abuse and does not take concerns seriously, says the abuse didn’t happen, shifts responsibility for abusive behavior, saying she/he caused it
More than 82 percent of parents feel confident that they could recognize the signs if their child was experiencing dating abuse. However, the majority of parents could not correctly identify all of the warning signs of abuse.
Below are some warning signs you might look for in your child’s behavior:
In a 2009 survey of parents, three in four parents say they have had a conversation with their teen about what it means to be in a healthy relationship- but 74 percent of sons and 66 percent of daughters said they have not had a conversation about dating abuse with a parent in the past year.
Most importantly, parents need to keep the lines of communication open with their children. Teens will not tell their parents everything, but if parents consistently show their children they are supportive, they may eventually come to them if they are struggling with a serious situation. Suggest having lunch or dessert together, going for a walk, playing a game, or doing one of their favorite activities.
A person may decide to stay in an abusive relationship for a variety of reasons – fear of the abuser, low self-esteem, love, fear of losing friends and having that support, or fear no one will believe they were abused, just to name a few. Relationships usually don’t begin abusive. Abuse starts happening little by little, and before the victim knows it, he/she is emotionally tied up in a situation that he/she cannot just leave immediately.
If you know your son or daughter is in an abusive relationship, please understand that the abuse is not his/her fault. Try not to ask “why” questions because they are often blaming. Refrain from telling them to leave the relationship. Leaving is one of the most dangerous times in an abusive relationship, and it is important to think about safety and create a plan before leaving. On average, victims leave their partners at least eight times before deciding to leave for good.
If you or someone you know is struggling in an abusive relationship, immediate support is available through The Center for Women and Families. The Center provides services to people affected by intimate partner abuse and sexual assault in Bullitt, Jefferson, Henry, Oldham, Trimble, Shelby, and Spencer counties. All services are free and confidential and include a 24-hour crisis line, individual counseling for children, teens, and adults, emergency shelter, and groups. Staff can also provide counseling services to you right in Henry County.
In addition, the center offers a variety of educational programs for school and church groups on the subjects of healthy relationships, good touch/bad touch, and anti-bullying. These programs are also free of charge.
The Center for Women and Families 24-hour toll-free crisis Line is 877-803-7577, or you can visit TheCenterOnline.org.