Coordinated Community Response Column: Teen Dating Violence

February was Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and what better timing to educate teens (and adults) about relationships when spring formal and prom are right around the corner!

Domestic violence is not just an adult issue, after all; teens experience violence in relationships too. According to research commissioned by Liz Claiborne Inc. and the Family Violence Prevention Fund, incidences of teen dating abuse are unexpectedly high.

The results presented in “Teen Dating Abuse 2009 Key Topline Findings” share that “Nearly 1 in 3 report actual sexual abuse, physical abuse, or threats of physical abuse. Nearly 1 in 4 have been victimized through technology, and nearly 1 in 2 teens in relationships report being controlled, threatened, and pressured to do things they did not want to do.”

Identifying abuse in a relationship is difficult, especially for teens. There are many types of abuse that teens may believe are not abusive or may believe to be typical in a relationship. Even though teen relationships may be different from adult relationships in a variety of ways, teens experience the same types of physical, sexual, verbal and emotional abuse that adults do.

Teens also face unique obstacles of where to go for help or how to get help. Unlike adults, teens may not have money, transportation, or safe places to go which may be exacerbated if they are in a rural community. They may have concerns about lack of confidentiality, reports to police or child protective services, and parental notification. Teens may hide the violence in their relationship because they are inexperienced in dating relationships, or they may want to be independent and want to handle the situation themselves. They may be pressured to act violently or may have unrealistic views of love.

Young men may believe that they have the right to control their female partners in any way necessary. They may falsely believe masculinity is physical aggressiveness and that they possess their dating partner. They may also believe they should demand intimacy; they may lose the respect of their peers if they are attentive and supportive toward their girlfriends. Those may be misguided thoughts but, nonetheless, are common beliefs.

Young women may believe that they are responsible for solving problems in their relationships. They may think that their boyfriend’s jealousy, possessiveness and even physical abuse is “romantic,” or that abuse is “normal” because their friends or even mother are also being abused. They may also think that there is no one to ask for help.

Teens may believe violence is acceptable because they may have witnessed violence at home and may consider this to be “normal” in a relationship. Witnessing domestic violence is a risk factor for becoming a victim or perpetrator of violence, mental health problems, and substance abuse.

But, teens have the right to a safe and healthy relationship just as adults do. In a healthy relationship you are able to pursue your own goals, talk about how you really feel, be with your friends, be by yourself, spend time with your family and have your own opinions. Everyone deserve a healthy relationship!

HELP of Door County, Inc. is a resource that is available to our community for information about healthy relationships for both teens and adults. There are brochures available regarding healthy relationships for teens, Dating Violence Facts, Is It Abuse? and other topics that may be of help for teens and families. There are also presenters available that can come to speak at schools, businesses, community groups, youth groups, and churches. Call HELP of Door County, Inc. at 920.743.8785 for more information.

This article is brought to you in part by the Door County Coordinated Community Response (CCR) to Domestic Violence Team.