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Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

Written By Kathryn Marsh, Prosecutor POV

The phone beeped and Jane jumped a little.

Her friends asked if she was going to check her phone. “Not now, I’ll check it later”. Jane didn’t want to check her phone. She knew it would be Mike, wondering where she was, again. Jane also knew it would be worse if she didn’t respond, but she was just so tired. Tired of responding, tired of coming up with excuses, tired of trying to answer all his questions, tired of being on edge, and tired of being afraid of the consequences if Mike didn’t like her answers.

It hadn’t always been like this. When they first started dating, Mike was the perfect boyfriend. All her friends were jealous. He would leave her notes in her locker, show up when she was out with friends just to hand her a rose and leave. He would call every night to say good night and tell her he loved her. But somewhere along the way those sweet gestures took on a more sinister tone.

If Jane didn’t answer his call or text right away, Mike would get angry and accusatory. If he showed up where she was and there was another guy there, suddenly Jane was cheating on him, it didn’t matter that the guy was dating one of her friends. He insisted on knowing where she was and who she was with all the time, and yesterday he pushed her for the first time.

Jane figured she was probably overreacting. It wasn’t like Mike hurt her. He just pushed her against the wall to make sure she was listening to him, but still, she was tired. When did dating stop being fun?

Jane isn’t alone, she is one of millions of young people in the United States impacted by teen dating violence. Dating Violence can take place in person or through technology. It can include physical aggression, sexual violence, psychological aggression, and stalking.

Too often, dating violence or intimate partner violence is seen only as physical or sexual violence, and psychological aggression and stalking gets left out of the conversation, especially when talking with our teens.

The CDC defines psychological aggression as “the use of verbal and non-verbal communication with the intent to harm a partner mentally or emotionally and exert control over a partner”. We can see this play out in relationships like Jane’s with repeated texts and calls and cheating accusations.

Psychological aggression can also be seen in belittling one’s partner, “you’re ugly”; “no one else would love you, you’re lucky to have me”; “why can’t you put more effort into yourself” or making threats or intimidating one’s partner “Don’t make me hit you”; “Do I have to come over there and show you” and sometimes the psychological aggression is threats against themselves. “If you leave me, I’ll kill myself.”

Being a teen and going through puberty is hard enough on its own. Trying to figure out all the changes in your body, and managing changing hormones without adding psychological aggression on top of it.

Stalking is defined by the CDC asa pattern of repeated, unwanted attention and contact by a current or former partner that causes fear or safety concern for an individual victim or someone close to the victim.” However, in the teen dating violence realm stalking can start out a lot more insidious, as stalking behaviors are first seen as romantic or sweet as opposed to unwanted or scary. It can be the ultimate gaslighting tool. By the time a victim realizes that their partner is leaving things in their locker all the time, or tracking their phone, needing to know where they are 24/7, and showing up when they’re out with friends isn’t romantic, the victim often doesn’t feel they can report the behavior, or even complain because they have allowed it to happen.

Teen dating violence is common, approximately 1 in 3 adolescents is a victim of abuse by a dating partner and violent dating behavior often begins between the ages of 12 and 16. Young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience dating violence at a rate 3 times the national average.

While teen dating violence may be common, it’s not talked about. It’s not talked about by parents, rarely in schools or faith organizations, and hardly ever by victims. In fact, only about 33% of teen dating abuse survivors have ever told anyone about the abuse. . February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and it is imperative that we break the silence that surrounds this topic to help save lives. Approximately half of teens who have experienced dating violence or rape have attempted suicide. 

Prevention of teen dating violence starts with talking about healthy relationships and discussing the warning signs of unhealthy relationships.

10 Signs of a Healthy Relationship by OneLove.org

  • Comfortable Pace
  • Trust
  • Honesty
  • Independence
  • Respect
  • Equality
  • Kindness
  • Taking Responsibility
  • Healthy Conflict
  • Fun

10 Warning Signs of Teen Dating Violence

  • Using insults, intimidation, or humiliation
  • Extreme jealousy, insecurity, or controlling behavior
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Unwanted sexual contact of any kind
  • Explosive temper or unusual moodiness
  • Constantly monitoring social media activities or location
  • Invasions of privacy; showing up unannounced
  • Leaving unwanted items, gifts, or flowers
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs
  • Threatening or causing physical violence; scratches, bruises

In addition to talking to teens about the signs, there are a number of tool kits and websites that families can utilize to further the conversation on dating violence, below are just a few :

  1. www.loveisrespect.org
  2. www.womenagainstabuse.org – resources for teens
  3. www.joinonelove.org
  4.  Matters Toolkit – https://vetoviolence.cdc.gov/apps/dating-matters-toolkit/

February 2024

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