All kinds of people suffer from abuse in relationships. It is not specific to a certain gender, ethnic group, or income level. Dating abuse affects everyone. Children as young as 12 years old can be in abusive dating relationships. Adults who use violence with their dating partners often begin doing so during their adolescent stage. Dating abuse is a very real issue for many school-aged youth. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control Division of Violence Prevention, 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.

Every year, 1 in 4 teens experience physical, emotional or sexual abuse from a dating partner (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Rapes by acquaintances account for 60 percent of all rapes reported to rape crisis centers. Both girls and boys are perpetrators of dating abuse, though girls tend to use less severe forms of dating abuse than boys and most abuse gets more severe over time. It is important to realize that an abusive date can use emotional or physical abuse and that emotional abuse can be more serious than physical abuse. One of the major concerns is that only a third of teens will tell someone they are experiencing dating violence.

Teen victims will often minimize the seriousness of the abuse and adults often fail to take teen dating violence seriously. February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. It is important that we take these matters seriously and work with our youth to understand the different forms of violence that can occur in a dating relationship. Both men and women identify jealousy and uncontrollable anger as the main reasons for dating violence. Youth can sometimes romanticize love by interpreting jealousy, possessiveness and abuse as signs of love.

So what are some examples of dating abuse?

  • Hitting

  • Shaking

  • Throwing things

  • Forcing a date to have sex

  • Acting in an intimidating way

  • Name calling

  • Keeping someone from leaving

  • Telling lies

  • Threatening to hurt themselves

  • Isolating a date from other people (friends or family)

Dating abuse is a serious issue that needs to be addressed with youth as early as possible. Showing students how to develop positive, healthy relationships that include things like open communication and consent will help prevent dating abuse, not only when they are school age but when they are adults as well. Teen’s communication skills are less developed than those of adults, so it is important to teach them necessary skills that can reduce dating violence. Open and honest communication are important in every healthy relationship.

According to that National Domestic Violence Hotline there are ways you can teach your youth to communicate when angry with their dating partner. Everyone gets angry at some point in a relationship. What’s important is that the youth are able to resolve the conflict in a healthy way. If your youth gets angry with their partner, here are a few steps they can take:

  • Teach them to stop, take a breather and give themselves time to calm down. Taking a break can help prevent the situation from getting worse.
  • Figure out the real problem. Is it something they said or did? Think about the situation so the youth can explain their feelings.
  • When the youth is ready, teach them how to effectively communicate with their partner. They should be honest and find the right time to talk face to face. Communication isn’t easy. It is a skill that needs years to develop. So teaching your youth at a young age can help them be successful as an adult.
  • Once the youth has had the opportunity to say how they feel, they should stop talking and learn to listen. Listening is difficult and they should know that sometimes it can be uncomfortable.

There are significant outcomes from teen dating violence. Youth victims of dating violence are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, engage in unhealthy behaviors like using drugs or alcohol, and contemplate suicide. There are services available to help youth talk through dating violence. Support Within Reach can help! We provide direct services to youth and their families who have experienced any form of sexual violence including sexual harassment, stalking, sexual assault and sexual exploitation. For more info visit supportwithinreach.org.

Ashli Lyseng is a program supervisor with Support Within Reach.