February is teen dating violence awareness month. It’s certainly something we deal with on a regular basis and we’ve noticed a few pieces that are important to keep in mind when dealing with this topic.
As a general rule, teen girls are the highest risk category for victimization and abuse. The impact from dating violence can last a lifetime and set up patterns with relationships that are unhealthy and have long-term consequences, but for some reason, we don’t always treat it with the level of seriousness it deserves.
John Doe stopped Jane Doe from going to class. He became enraged after seeing Jane talking to another boy in the hallway. No matter how hard she tried to get past him, he wouldn’t budge. He put both hands on either side of her head and starting smashing the locker. She tried to push past him and he shoved her into the lockers. When the police arrived, they cautioned that both of them could be charged since she pushed back. They were treated like children (which they are) but in doing so, the implications of the dating relationship and the violence that was happening already were not taken seriously. Jane was suspended from school – for her safety because John was so angry. John wasn’t charged because no one wants to ‘ruin’ a young boy’s life for a ‘mistake’ he makes as a teenager.
Neither Jane nor John received help. Jane, simply because she was too stressed to return to school and eventually ended up dropping out. John because no one took his behaviour seriously therefore there was no reason to get help. Last we heard, Jane was back with John.
Unfortunately, this is a common start to many years of domestic violence for both of them.
Adolescents are just starting to learn about and experiment with intimate relationships and sexuality, yet the messages they are bombarded with are not clear and are often-times contradictory. Teens often think that some behaviours (like name calling when it’s called ‘teasing’) are normal and teens in general have a tough time recognizing physical and sexual abuse for what it is. Controlling and jealous behaviours are routinely depicted as signs of love and for many adolescents, dating violence is considered normative. Let’s face it, teens have little dating experience and may not understand that their partner’s behaviour is abusive.
“It was kind of my fault because I was flirting with Dan and I knew that would make him mad”
Teen dating violence is defined as the “physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional violence within a dating relationship. It can occur in person or electronically and might occur between current or former dating partner”
Teens not only have to deal with their abusive partners, they have to deal with their peers who often take sides, give advice (most of which is not healthy and has undertones of victim blaming) and generally add to the stress and trauma of the experience.
“It’s all over the internet. Kids are making fun of me, blaming me for getting John in trouble; his sister and her friends are threatening me, they’re calling me names and writing stuff on my locker”
Once a dating violence victim drops out of school due to the stress and trauma of dealing with their abuser and the peers who are involved, they’ve altered their life in ways that are difficult to undo. To them, in their adolescent brain, they are solving the immediate problem. They don’t fully understand (nor can they) the implications of their immediate actions.
We knew about Jane but the reality is that about 1 out of 11 dating violence incidents get reported to police. Youth are, in fact, the least likely to report any victimization to adults (including authorities).
For more information, please go to Facts on Dating Violence