What is teen dating violence? Is that really a thing?
Teen dating violence is very similar to partner abuse in adult relationships, in which one person attempts to have power and control over the other person through manipulation, “mind games,” belittling behavior, isolation, threats and coercion. (http://www.ncdsv.org/images/powercontrolwheelnoshading.pdf). However, abuse between teens also commonly includes tactics similar to bullying that involve peers in the abuse—threatening to spread rumors around school or telling malicious lies about the survivor, for example. [http://www.ncdsv.org/images/teen%20p&c%20wheel%20no%20shading.pdf]
As with partner abuse between adults, it’s important to remember that a relationship can be abusive even if there is no physical violence, and between teens much of the abuse often occurs electronically. Cyber-stalking and bullying, which can include excessively texting, demanding passwords to a partner’s social media accounts, obsessing about who a partner is talking to online, telling a partner what selfies they can and cannot post, and checking up on someone via GPS are attempts to control a partner, can be just as damaging as physical violence.
Why don’t teens speak up or seek help? For all the same reasons adults don’t. (http://justicewomen.com/cj_whydoesntsheleave.html) And there are some others. Young people who are being abused by a dating partner may fear getting in trouble for dating or being sexually active if they get help from their parents. Furthermore, they may worry their parents will find out if they go to a guidance counselor or teacher, or call a hotline. For a lot of teens, their lack of dating experience means they don’t know what a healthy relationship should look or feel like, a fact often exploited by an abuser: “This is how relationships are.” “If you can’t handle it, maybe you’re not mature enough.” “Stop being so naïve.” Friends who may intervene could also be afraid of getting in trouble, or don’t want to be involved in “drama,” ultimately cutting off support for the victimized friend.
Successful prevention programs, including the classes we teach at Peaceful Paths, address all three people in the abuse triad: the offender, the victim/survivor, and the bystander. We reach potential offenders by sharing a clear message of what abuse is and why it’s not okay, and teach skills for healthy relationships, including communication and dealing appropriately with anger. Potential victims learn to identify red flags for potential abusive behavior, that abuse is never the victim’s fault, and how to get help. Bystanders (friends, neighbors, and peers) learn how to safety intervene, how to respect a survivor while expressing concern, and challenge abusive, sexist, or oppressive behavior from friends or peers.
Social media and social norm campaigns also help get out the message that dating violence is not okay, using relevant and fun media. For instance, That’s Not Cool, [http://www.thatsnotcool.com] a project of the Ad Council and Futures Without Violence, talks to youth about how your technology is an extension of yourself, and a person who disrespects you by texting excessively, harassing you for pictures, or constantly wanting to know where you are has crossed the line from “caring to controlling” or from “talking to stalking.” Electronic “call out cards” give snappy comebacks for controlling online behavior, empowering victims and flipping the script so that abusers seem like the weak ones. “Thanks for the lies you posted on my profile page. Friends are overrated anyway,” reads one. “Congrats! With that last text, you’ve achieved Stalker Status,” proclaims another. Love Is Respect [loveisrespect.org] is another great resource for teens. This site shares information about relationships, as well as the intersections of abuse with other identities (LGBT, undocumented, teen parents). Here, survivors to chat with trained peer advocates by phone, instant message, or text, as well as take quizzes, pledge to have healthy relationships, and learn how to combat dating violence in their own communities.
If a young person you care about is being abused by a dating partner, listen to their concerns and validate their feelings. Let them know the abuse in not deserved and isn’t their fault. Tell them honestly your concerns for their safety, but don’t issue threats or ultimatums. Remember, a survivor is used to an abuser telling them what to do and putting down their choices, so don’t replicate that dynamic in an attempt to help. Help them plan how to stay safe, and remember: victims know abusers best. Safety concerns include school and extra-curricular activities, technology, building a good support system, and being able to get help if a violent incident occurs. If they’re ready, help them contact Peaceful Paths or your local domestic violence center for additional help safety planning and to learn about additional resources in the community. Remember—violence is all our responsibility, and together we can build a stronger and more peaceful community.