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Dating abuse is a pattern of destructive behaviors used to exert power and control over a dating partner. While we define dating violence as a pattern, that doesn't mean the first instance of abuse is not dating violence. It just recognizes that dating violence usually involves a series of abusive behaviors over a course of time.
Because relationships exist on a spectrum, it can be hard to tell when a behavior crosses the line from healthy to unhealthy or even abusive. Use these warning signs of abuse to see if your relationship is going in the wrong direction:
- Checking your cell phone or email without permission
- Constantly putting you down
- Extreme jealousy or insecurity
- Explosive temper
- Isolating you from family or friends
- Making false accusations
- Mood swings
- Physically hurting you in any way
- Telling you what to do
Young adult dating violence is a big problem, affecting youth in every community across the nation. Learn the facts below.
- Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year.
- One in three adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a figure that far exceeds rates of other types of youth violence.
- One in 10 high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend.
- One quarter of high school girls have been victims of physical or sexual abuse.
Why Focus on Young People?
- Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence -- almost triple the national average.
- Violent behavior typically begins between the ages of 12 and 18.
- The severity of intimate partner violence is often greater in cases where the pattern of abuse was established in adolescence.
- About 72% of eighth and ninth graders are “dating".
- Violent relationships in adolescence can have serious ramifications by putting the victims at higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior and further domestic violence.
- Being physically or sexually abused makes teen girls six times more likely to become pregnant and twice as likely to get a STI.
- Half of youth who have been victims of both dating violence and rape attempt suicide, compared to 12.5% of non-abused girls and 5.4% of non-abused boys.
Dating Violence and the Law
- Eight states currently do not include dating relationships in their definition of domestic violence. As a result, young victims of dating abuse often cannot apply for restraining orders.
- New Hampshire is the only state where the law specifically allows a minor of any age to apply for a protection order; more than half of states do not specify the minimum age of a petitioner.
- Currently only one juvenile domestic violence court in the country focuses exclusively on teen dating violence.
Lack of Awareness
- Only 33% of teens who were in a violent relationship ever told anyone about the abuse.
- Eighty one percent of parents believe teen dating violence is not an issue or admit they don’t know if it’s an issue.
- A teen’s confusion about the law and their desire for confidentiality are two of the most significant barriers stopping young victims of abuse from seeking help.
Physical abuse is any intentional and unwanted contact with you or something close to your body. Sometimes abusive behavior does not cause pain or even leave a bruise, but it's still unhealthy. Examples of physical abuse are:
- Scratching, punching, biting, strangling or kicking.
- Throwing something at you such as a phone, book, shoe or plate.
- Pulling your hair.
- Pushing or pulling you.
- Grabbing your clothing.
- Using a gun, knife, box cutter, bat, mace or other weapon.
- Smacking your bottom.
- Forcing you to have sex or perform a sexual act.
- Grabbing your face to make you look at them.
- Grabbing you to prevent you from leaving or to force you to go somewhere.
Escaping Physical Abuse
Start by learning that you are not alone. More than one in 10 high school students have already experienced some form of physical aggression from a dating partner, and many of these teens did not know what to do when it happened. If you are in a similar situation:
- Realize this behavior is wrong.
- Talk to an adult, friend or family member that you trust.
- Create a safety plan.
- Consider getting a restraining order.
- Do not accept or make excuses for your partner’s abusive behavior.
- Remember that physical abuse is never your fault.
Protecting Yourself from Physical Abuse
Unhealthy or abusive relationships usually get worse. It is important to know the warning signs to prevent more serious harm. If you are in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, consider making a safety plan. Chat with a peer advocate for more information.
Drugs, Alcohol, and Abuse
Especially if you are an abusive relationship, drugs and alcohol can make an unhealthy situation worse. Your abusive partner may get you drunk or high to take advantage of you. When you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you’re more vulnerable to:
- Being sexually assaulted.
- Having unsafe or unprotected sex.
- Getting a sexually transmitted disease.
- Getting pregnant.
It’s common for abusive partners to blame drugs or alcohol for their unhealthy behavior. Frequently, they do not accept responsibility for their actions or address the real reasons for the abuse. Drugs and alcohol do affect a person’s judgment and behavior, but they are not a reason for violent behavior. Watch out for these common excuses:
- "I didn’t mean what I said. I was drunk."
- "I would never hit you sober."
- "Drinking turns me into a different person. That’s not who I really am."
It’s important to remember that when your partner is intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, their actions still reflect their personality. If your partner is violent when they are drunk or high, it’s probably just a matter of time until they are abusive whey they’re sober.
Knowing the warning signs of an unhealthy or abusive relationship will help you distinguish between healthy and unhealthy behaviors.
Sexual abuse refers to any action that pressures or coerces someone to do something sexually they don't want to do. It can also refer to behavior that impacts a person's ability to control their sexual activity or the circumstances in which sexual activity occurs, including oral sex, rape or restricting access to birth control and condoms. Some examples of sexual assault and abuse are:
- Unwanted kissing or touching.
- Unwanted rough or violent sexual activity.
- Rape or attempted rape.
- Refusing to use condoms or restricting someone’s access to birth control.
- Keeping someone from protecting themselves from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
- Sexual contact with someone who is very drunk, drugged, unconscious or otherwise unable to give a clear and informed “yes” or “no.”
- Threatening or pressuring someone into unwanted sexual activity.
Keep in Mind
- Everyone has the right to decide what they do or don’t want to do sexually. Not all sexual assaults are violent “attacks.”
- Most victims of sexual assault know the assailant.
- Both men and women can be victims of sexual abuse.
- Both men and women can be perpetrators of sexual abuse.
- Sexual abuse can occur in same-sex and opposite-sex relationships.
- Sexual abuse can occur between two people who have been sexual with each other before, including people who are married or dating.
What to Do
If you have been sexually assaulted, first get to a safe place away from the attacker. You may be scared, angry and confused, but remember the abuse was in no way your fault. You have options. You can:
- Contact Someone You Trust. Many people feel fear, guilt, anger, shame and/or shock after they have been sexually assaulted. Having someone there to support you as you deal with these emotions can make a big difference. It may be helpful to speak with a counselor, someone at a sexual assault hotline or a support group. Get more tips for building a support system.
- Report What Happened to the Police. If you do decide to report what happened, you will have a stronger case if you do not alter or destroy any evidence. This means don’t shower, wash your hair or body, comb your hair or change your clothes, even if that is hard to do. If you are nervous about going to the police station, it may help to bring a friend with you. There may also be sexual assault advocates in your area who can assist you and answer your questions.
- Go to an Emergency Room or Health Clinic. It is very important for you to seek health care as soon as you can after being assaulted. You will be treated for any injuries and offered medications to help prevent pregnancy and STIs.