The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines dating violence as physical, sexual, or psychological violence within a dating relationship. It is a type of intimate-partner violence (IPV). In the United States, an estimated 5.3 million IPV incidents occur each year, and approximately 1,300 people die as a result of domestic violence.
Rates of dating violence in high school are nearly as high as adult IPV rates. In a 2001 study, 20% of female high school students reported that they had been physically or sexually abused by a dating partner. Another study in 2005 found that one-third of reporting teens knew a friend or peer who had been hit, punched, kicked, slapped, choked, or punched by a dating partner. Approximately one-fourth reported being coerced or forced into performing sex acts they were not comfortable with. Abuse is not always physical, however, More than one-fourth of respondents in the 2005 survey reported experiencing verbal abuse from a dating partner.
Dating violence tends to start out very subtly, and teenagers often mistake their partner’s attention and jealousy for love. Ultimately, abuse is about power and control. It involves one party seeking to obtain and maintain power and control over the other. Early warning signs, then, tend to focus on controlling actions. For instance, teen abusers may try to control what their partner wears, who he or she sees, and where he or she goes.
Unlike in adult domestic violence, studies tend to show that boys are almost as likely to be victimized in their high school relationships as girls, although the abuse tends to take different forms. Whereas girls are more likely to suffer from physical and sexual abuse, male victims endure verbal and emotional abuse as well as threats and harm to their property.
As with domestic violence, the risk of serious injury often increases when victims attempt to end the relationship. In a Liz Claiborne-sponsored survey conducted in 2005, almost 20% of teenage girls who had been in a relationship reported that their boyfriend had threatened violence or self-harm when they mentioned a breakup.
Technology can be a useful tool for abusers. An abuser may purchase a phone for his or her victim and then demand that it be answered whenever the abuser makes contact or require the victim to show who she or he called or received calls from. Many teen victims report receiving threats from their dating partner via phone or text message. Abusers may also use social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook to control their victims. Some make threats via these sites, or post embarrassing information.
Victims of domestic or dating violence are not just at risk for injury and death. The effects of enduring abuse can be lasting, sometimes even lifelong. Victims of dating violence are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior, unhealthy dieting behaviors, substance use, and suicidal ideation or attempts. Dating violence victimization has also been found to increase the risk of involvement in abusive adult relationships.
Many victims have a difficult time leaving their abusers. Often, they feel stigma and shame; as a consequence, they may tell no one about the abuse. Teen victims are especially likely to keep their abuse a secret. A 2002 study found that only 7% of female high school students said they would call the police if they were subjected to dating violence. Teens are most likely to report such abuse to a friend, who may not be equipped to offer the necessary help. Sometimes teens feel as though they can help their abusers, so they stay in the relationship for that reason. Often, teens have never been taught what a healthy relationship is and, having little life experience with relationships, do not realize the danger they are in.
All 50 states plus the District of Columbia have laws prohibiting domestic violence and many of the behaviors associated with dating violence, such as sexual assault and stalking. Some states do not use the language “dating violence,” however. Victims of dating violence can obtain protective orders from their abusers in 39 states plus the District of Columbia, although specific requirements for these court orders vary. In Florida, for instance, victims must have been in the relationship for at least six months and must have a parent or guardian with them when they apply. These limitations often pose a difficulty for teen victims.
In many cases, dating violence occurs at schools. Abusers may make threatening remarks in school, may stalk their victims, and may spread rumors. In a few sad cases, abusers have seriously injured or killed their victims in or around schools.
Some states have enacted legislation requiring students and staff to receive education about dating violence Both Texas and Rhode Island have this type of law, for example, and both pieces of legislation were passed after a female was killed at the hands of an abusive partner. Texas now mandates awareness education for students and parents, while Rhode Island has incorporated dating violence into the curriculum for all students in grades 7 through 12. Schools can help in other ways, too. Counselors can help identify warning signs and discuss dating violence and healthy relationships with students. Guest speakers should be brought in to discuss these issues as well. Having posters and literature around can also help teens see that they are not alone and find appropriate phone numbers and websites where additional information is available.
- Associated Press. (2008, October 5). R.I. schools must teach about dating violence. MSNBC. Retrieved April 29, 2010, from http://www.nbcnews.com/id/27035312/
- Black,M.,Noonan,R.,&Legg,M.(2006,May 19).Physicaldatingviolence among high school students: United States, 2003. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5519a3.htm
- Burleigh, N. (2007, September 10). A high school student’s nightmare: Dating violence. People. Retrieved from http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20060228,00.html
- National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline: www.loveisrespect.org
- Understanding Teen Dating Violence (2012) http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/TeenDatingViolence2012-a.pdf