What is Dating Abuse?
Dating abuse is a pattern of behaviors including physical, sexual, emotional, and/or verbal abuse used to gain power and control over a partner. The abuse can happen over time and may continue to get worse.
Dating abuse can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender, race, class, education level, or religion. It also occurs in same-sex relationships.
While there are similarities faced by adults and teens dealing with dating abuse, teens face unique challenges, including:
- Not always recognizing that certain behaviors – such as repeated texting or isolating behavior – is abuse. Instead, they see these forms of abuse as normal or misinterpret them as love, possibly because it is their first relationship, they have seen family in abusive relationships or abuse and violence has become normalized in society.
- They see violence in the media and video games.
- Friends may be in abusive relationships or their circle of friends condones it.
- Teen brains are still developing; they feel emotions more intensely than adults, coupled with the fact that this relationship may be their first.
- Being in the same school and social group as the abuser.
- Peer pressure or the desire to be popular.
- Low self-esteem, loneliness, anxiety or depression.
- Not having money, transportation, or a safe place to go.
- Having an abusive or unsupportive home life.
- Fear of telling parents because they would have to admit that they were dating or sexually active, which their parents may not allow.
- Not knowing where they can go for help or that they can call the police.
Abuse happens in all kinds of dating relationships to all types of teens. Those with disabilities and same-sex partners, as well as tweens (kids age 11-14), homeless youth and teens with/or expecting children, however, can be at greater risk.
Teens with Disabilities
More than 1 in 5 young people with disabilities between the ages of 12 and 19 reports experiencing violence, such as physical abuse, rape or sexual assault from a stranger or partner: This is more twice the rate of youth without a disability.
- People with a disability may already be more reliant on family, friends and partners for daily activities or on assistive devices that an abuser can use to control them.
- Having cognitive or intellectual disabilities may make it more difficult to recognize signs of abuse and understand how to get help or report it.
- Abusers may use disability to break down self-esteem; “No one else will love you because of your disability,” etc.
- People with some disabilities may be unable to legally consent to sexual activities.
- More resources: Teens with Disabilities Have the Right to Healthy Relationships
Runaway and Homeless Youth
6 in 10 homeless or formerly homeless youth have been in a violent dating relationship.
- Both victims and perpetrators of teen dating violence without stable housing will have significantly greater needs.
- Few transitional shelters that serve runaway or homeless youth screen for dating abuse during the intake process.
- Youth living on the street are more likely to be in exploitative relationships or may end up in the sex trade.
- Many runaway and homeless youth have histories of multiple traumas – including family violence, parental mental illness and sexual abuse – making them more susceptible to future relationship violence and less likely to ask for help.
- Because they are young, many youth are not able to work and support themselves so they rely on abusive partners who often force them into sex work.
Tweens (11 years old-14 years old)
62% of tweens say they know friends who have been verbally abused: called stupid, worthless, ugly, etc. by a boyfriend or girlfriend.
- Parents don’t believe that their tween child is dating or engaging in sexual activity because of their age so they don’t look for signs of possible abuse.
- Tweens have less experience in dating and less knowledge about unhealthy/ healthy dating behaviors.
- Most elementary schools and middle schools do not address teen dating, sexual activity or consent.
- Tweens may be “hooking up” and not in official relationships and do not realize that abuse can still happen in these circumstances.
- Resources: Tween and Teen Dating Abuse
Pregnant and Parenting Youth
Adolescent girls in physically abusive relationships were 3X more likely to become pregnant than non-abused girls.
- Adolescent mothers who are in controlling relationships may find it difficult to refuse sex or use birth control.
- Abusers may force their partner to stay pregnant and have the child so it is harder to leave the relationship.
- Parents may have abandoned their pregnant teen and/or kicked her out of the house, leading to less support, more isolation and increased dependence on an abusive partner.
- Teen parents often drop out of school, making it more difficult to find employment and forcing them to rely on their partner for financial support.
- Abusive partners will often threaten to hurt the child, take the child or call child protective services.
LGBTQ youth involved in same-sex dating are just as likely to experience dating violence as youths involved in opposite sex dating.
- Sexual orientation and gender identity increase risk for victimization; LGBTQ youth are more likely to leave home as a result of physical abuse and conflict with family, leading them to be more dependent on other people for money, food and housing.
- Same-sex partners who are being abused may not want to seek help because they are afraid of how they will be treated by the community because of their sexual orientation.
- An abusive partner may “out” their partner (or threaten to) to family, friends, teammates, or may make their partner feel bad about their sexual orientation or sexual history.
- An abusive partner may threaten to alienate their partner from the gay community.
- An abusive partner might tell their partner that police and counselors are homophobic to discourage them from seeking help/reporting the abuse.