Teen Dating Violence
Dating violence affects many teens today. Estimates of how many teens experience violence in dating relationships range from 9%-82%, depending on whether all forms of dating violence or only incidents of physical violence are counted.
Several studies have found that about 20-30% of teens have experienced physical or sexual violence in a dating relationship. When verbal and emotional violence are included, percentages are much higher.
Rates of teen dating violence in gay and lesbian relationships are similar to rates in heterosexual dating relationships. Teen dating violence occurs in all ethnic groups and at all economic levels. Teens who experience dating violence are at risk for problems including substance abuse, unhealthy weight control (such as using laxatives), pregnancy, risky sexual behavior, sexually transmitted diseases, hopelessness, self-harming behaviors, suicide and homicide.
Teen dating violence is a pattern of abusive behaviors that are used to gain power and control over a current or former dating partner. There are four types of dating violence. Some examples are listed for each type, but other abusive or coercive behaviors that are done with the intent of controlling the partner would also be considered dating violence.
Verbal—name-calling, putdowns, yelling or shouting, threatening the partner or one of the partner’s family members
Emotional—excessive jealousy, trying to control the partner’s activities, calling or paging frequently to “keep tabs” on the partner, telling the partner how to dress, stalking,
Physical—hitting, slapping, punching, shoving, pinching, kicking, hair pulling
Sexual—unwanted touching or kissing, forcing the partner to have sex or engage in any unwanted sexual activity, not allowing the partner to use birth control
The abusive behaviors that occur in teen dating violence are similar to those that occur in adult domestic violence, but teen dating violence has unique dynamics.
It may be more difficult for teens to recognize abuse because they have less relationship experience. They may also interpret jealousy and controlling behaviors as signs of love.
Some studies have reported that the frequency of engaging in teen dating violence is similar for females and males, but these studies usually overlook the context and effects of the violence. For example, females usually report using violence for self-defense, but males usually report using violence to intimidate, frighten, or control their partners. When females experience dating violence, they are more likely to have serious injuries that require medical treatment and to feel emotionally distressed and afraid. When males experience dating violence, they are less likely to be injured and are more likely to laugh it off or get angry.
Teens are most likely to either tell a friend about the violence or to not tell anyone. One study found that only 6% told a family member or other adult.
There are many barriers that prevent teens in violent dating situations from seeking help. These include:
- They are often afraid to tell an adult. Many adults such as teachers and counselors are required to report abuse of a minor to child protective services and may notify the teen’s parents. They may not want their parents to know because the violence may have occurred while they were doing something they are not allowed to do.
- They fear that the abuser will retaliate. They may be in real danger—abuse often escalates when the victim leaves the relationship.
- They are afraid that peers will lose respect for them.
- They still have an emotional attachment to the abuser and don’t want to leave the relationship.
- In some states it is not possible for a minor to get an order of protection or to get an order of protection against another minor.
- Many shelters do not accept minors.
Reprinted with the permission of the University of Missouri. © 2008 — Curators of the University of Missouri
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