February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

Teen Dating Violence

Penney Wilson, Advocate

(February 2015 newsletter from Cowlitz Tribe Pathways to Healing)

Imagine you are a thirteen, fourteen, fifteen-year-old, involved in your first “serious” relationship. It’s exciting, new, and so much fun. Stealing kisses, holding hands in the halls at school, trips to the mall, dates, texting each other twenty times a day, hanging out, changing your status on your social media page from “single” to “in a relationship”, in other words doing what kids do when they are in a relationship. Now imagine that your experience isn’t quite what you thought it would be. What if your partner is becoming increasingly possessive, demanding your social media and cell phone passwords, needing to know who you are communicating with, dictating who you can and cannot socialize with, telling you what you can and cannot wear? The twenty texts become fifty or more sent in rapid angry succession and your partner now expects much more from you than just hand holding and kissing. Your partner verbally abuses you, hits, slaps, or pushes you, or sexually abuses you. What if you’re relationship has become one of fear, isolation, and abuse? You are now one of approximately 1.5 million(1) teens who have disclosed being harmed by the person they were romantically involved with. You are a victim of teen dating violence.

The statistics are staggering. According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics press release, between 1993 and 1999, 22% of all homicides against females aged 16-19 were committed by an intimate partner. It is also important to note that 5 nearly half of adult sex offenders admit committing their first offenses before the age of 18. One in ten high school students have been intentionally physically harmed by a dating partner, one in four high school girls has been a victim of sexual abuse, and only thirty-three percent of teens who have experienced an abusive relationship ever disclosed the violence(2) . The occurrence of psychological victimization is even greater with between two and three out of ten reporting verbal or psychological abuse(4) and the consequences of teen dating violence can be devastating and long lasting. The Center for Disease control states that “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.”(2011) Victims have higher chances of STIs (sexually transmitted infections), a six times higher chance of pregnancy, substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behaviors, continuing domestic violence, and suicide. According to loveisrespect.org, of those who have been victims of dating violence and rape, 50% attempt suicide. Compare this to the 12.5% of non-abused girls and 5.4% of non-abused boys. These are frightening statistics especially when we consider that many parents do not see teen dating violence as being an issue.

There are many reasons why teens enter into and find it hard to get out of abusive relationships. One reason is the ambivalent attitudes surrounding dating violence and the victim blaming mentality that seems to permeate our society. Abusive teens may be acting out and recreating what they have seen in the media. Media represents violence as being acceptable and portrays it many times as the norm in relationships. When something goes wrong it is the victim who often bares the blame not the perpetrator. Teens in violent relationships may blame themselves, be afraid of not fitting in with their peers, and be afraid of being bullied. Bulling has risen to a whole new level as technology has allowed online abuse to become common. Through multiple social media sites, cell phones, e-mail, and texting, abusers have almost unlimited access to their victims. Teens in abusive situations may still very much “love” the abuser and be hesitant to disclose to their parents for fear of being forced to “breakup” with their partner. Just as in adult relationships, many truly care for their partner; it is the abuse they want to end not the relationship. They may also be afraid of appearing as failing or letting down their peers. Feelings of guilt, responsibility, low self-esteem, peer pressure, and shame may also play a part in a teen’s choice to stay in an abusive situation. So what can we do about this?

First we must know what to look for as teens often choose not to disclose abuse. Watch for signs of physical and emotional abuse. Watch for signs such as isolation from friends and family, emotional changes, constant contact with their partner, jealousy issues, excuses for their partner’s behavior, unexplained bruising, scratches, or other marks. Try to keep the lines of communication open and talk openly about setting boundaries, self-worth, and self-respect. Always validate how your teen is feeling and don’t make light of their relationship, if your child is involved in an abusive situation it is a serious concern. If abuse is disclosed don’t blame or try to “fix” the problem. Wanting to help is a natural response but try to limit your advice and try offering options instead. Offer support, resources, and safety planning. In Washington State minors sixteen years and older can obtain an Order of Protection without an adult. Dating violence among teens is a frightening, sadly all too common, occurrence that crosses all socio-economic, cultural, and institutional boundaries. It can happen to anyone. Parents and guardians need to feel comfortable talking to their children about these issues, help teens understand and build healthy relationship and give unconditional non-judgmental support if they disclose abuse.

1 DoSomething.org

2 Liz Claiborne Inc. Conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited, (February 2005)

3 loveisrespect.org

4 Mulford, Giordano “Teen Dating Violence: A closer Look at Adolescent Romantic Relationships.” 5 Ron Snipe, et Al, “Recidivism in Young Adulthood, Adolescent Sexual Offenders Grown Up,” 25 Criminal Justice & Behavior, 109,112, (1998)