[A note to the reader: This article discusses information about domestic violence and sexual assault. The content may activate strong feelings for some individuals.]

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (TDVAM)! In order to prevent and stop dating violence among teens, and it’s important for our friends, families, colleagues and acquaintances to know the signs of relationship  and sexual abuse. Supporting the survivors in your community means being aware of the dynamics of teen dating violence and knowing how to help people in need.

What is teen dating violence?

Teen dating violence includes physical, psychological or sexual abuse of any person from ages 12 to 18. It’s more common thank you think. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, about 1 in 3 teenagers in a relationship admit to being in an unhealthy situation.

When talking about relationship violence, we often think of the abuse being physical. This is not always the case, and oftentimes physical violence doesn’t occur until there’s already been a pattern of sexual or emotional abuse. These types of abusive behaviors are used as a way for the intimate partner to maintain power and control over the victim.

What are the warning signs of dating violence?

Here are some common warning signs of dating abuse to look out for:

  • Checking text messages, emails or social media without permission
  • Demanding a partner’s passwords
  • Constant belittling or put-downs
  • Isolation from family or friends
  • Distracting the victim away from schoolwork or coercing them to skip class
  • Physically inflicting pain
  • Repeatedly pressuring sex
  • Possessiveness or telling the victim what to do
  • Explosive temper and mood swings directed at the victim
  • Not respecting their partner’s boundaries
  • Patterns of stalking or showing up unannounced
  • Guilting the victim or threatening to self-harm in a coercive manner

Who does teen dating violence affect?

Dating violence can affect anyone—not just teens, but their parents, teachers, friends and communities. The impact of dating violence is debilitating and long-term, often leading to mental health conditions, alcoholism or drug abuse and even patterns of abusive relationships later in life.

While anyone can experience teen dating violence in their lifetime, someone’s race, gender, disability status or sexual orientation makes them far more likely to be affected. According to a CDC study, about 1 in 9 female teens and 1 in 36 male teens reported experiencing sexual dating violence. And as the Women of Color Network points out, African American females are 35% more likely to experience intimate partner violence than white females.

Transgender, non-binary and LGBTQ+ youth are also at high risk of teen dating violence. It was reported by an Urban Institute study that nearly 88.9% of transgender youth experienced physical dating violence. While all relationships face different struggles, LGBTQIA youth face unique obstacles that heterosexual partners don’t experience. For example, a fear of being outed can complicate abuse in same sex partnerships and can even be used as a way to coerce the victim. LGBTQIA teens are much more likely to be homeless—with 30% of homeless individuals identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual. Fear of homelessness is a reason some LGBTQIA survivors may choose to stay with their abuser.

What is consent and why is it so important?

Simply put, consent is defined as permission for something to happen or agreement to do something. It’s a common term that can be used in fields such as law, medicine, research and sexual relationships. While that seems broad, consent is crucial in everyday life and is used in all types of relationships, including platonic, professional and romantic. In all cases, consent is clear, coherent, willing, informed and ongoing.

The definition and meaning of consent can be broken down as an acronym:

  • C—clear and mutual “yes”
  • O—ongoing process
  • N—not the absence of a “no”
  • S—subject to change
  • E—engaged
  • N—necessary
  • T—taking the time to check-in

It’s important to note that there are misconceptions about consent that can be used to perpetuate abuse. For example, if a person doesn’t outright say “no” or “stop” that does NOT mean a person is consenting to the act. In fact, consent is always an enthusiastic yes. Think about it—you wouldn’t want your partner to be just ok with engaging in sexual activity, right? You’d want them to be excited and enthusiastic about it! And sometimes the absence of a “no” means the partner may be coercing, guilting and manipulating the victim into the act.

If you’ve been asking your partner repeatedly until they do say “yes”, that’s not consent. Quite frankly, “no” does not mean “try harder”. Asking a partner repeatedly for a sex act is pressuring them and is sexually coercive. In a healthy relationship, each partner respects each other’s boundaries and will openly communicate with each other.

What can you do if someone you know is experiencing dating violence?

Do you think someone close to you might be in a potentially dangerous situation? It’s never an easy place to be in, but the first step is to approach them with L.O.V.E. And by that, we mean to listen, offer resources and support, validate their feelings, and empower them to make their own choices. Additionally, our advocates can walk you through the best way to support a survivor in need and teach you more about our services.

How does Wellspring help teens affected by dating violence?

Wellspring provides comprehensive supportive services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault that are free and confidential. We support survivors through counseling, legal advocacy and case management, an emergency shelter, long-term housing assistance through our New View Housing Program, financial empowerment programs, support during sexual assault forensic exams, our Safe Pet Partnership and more.

To get in touch with a Wellspring advocate, call our 24-hour hotline at 518-584-8188. We also offer a web-based chat available during business hours. Both options are free, confidential and non-judgmental.


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