Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month: The Basics

Teen DV Awareness Month:
Healthy vs. Unhealthy 101
by Lindsey Turnbull

DYK: February is teen dating violence awareness month. This year marks the 10th anniversary of celebrating TDVAM! The theme this year is #OutrageIntoAction. Everyone deserves healthy and safe relationships, and so, it’s important to know what a healthy relationship is or is not. It’s important to talk about creating safe outlets for anger and other emotions.  It’s important to share resources, believe survivors, and build community.

Everyone deserves healthy relationships. Let’s take action and end dating violence!

The basics:

  • Dating violence or abuse can happen to ANYONE, regardless of age, gender, sex, sexual orientation, race, ability, religion, or background.
  • Drugs and alcohol can affect someone’s judgment and behavior, but they do not excuse abuse or violence.
  • Prior trauma and mental health issues can also influence a person, but they do not excuse abuse or violence.
  • Dating abuse or violence is about power and control. This wheel assumes that abusers are men in heterosexual relationships- we know that abuse can happen between any partners- but this wheel can still be tremendously useful. A gender-neutral and interactive power and control wheel can be found here: http://www.loveisrespect.org/is-this-abuse/power-and-control-wheel/
  • If you are in an abusive or violent relationship, it is not your fault. And you are not alone.

Why is this important? Here are some stats from DC Coalition Against Dating Violence and Love is Respect

  • One in three teens in the U.S. will experience physical, sexual or emotional abuse by someone they are in a relationship with before they become adults.
  • Girls and young women between the ages of 16-24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence – almost triple the national average.
  • 43% of dating college women report experience abusive dating behaviors including physical, sexual, tech, verbal or controlling behavior.
  • Dating abuse affects around 1.5 million teens annually.

Dating violence is, unfortunately, too common amongst teens. Do you know the types of abuse?

  • Dating violence can be: Physical: hitting, slapping, choking, kicking
  • Emotional/Verbal: putting you down; embarrassing you in public (online or off); threatening you in any way; telling you what to do or what to wear; gaslighting; intimidation
  • Sexual: pressuring or forcing you to do anything sexual, including sexting; restricting access to birth control
  • Financial: taking your paychecks; preventing you from working
  • Digital: sending threats via text, social media or email; stalking or humiliating you on social media; logging into your social media or email accounts without permission; forcing you to share passwords
  • Stalking:  Being repeatedly watched, followed, monitored or harassed. Stalking can occur online or in person, and can include unwanted gifts

Relationships can be unhealthy without being necessarily being abusive. All abusive relationships are unhealthy.

In unhealthy relationships, one person tries to control the other. S/he may pressure their partner about sex. S/he may be jealous and controlling, and want their partner to only spend time with them. Unhealthy relationships also may include: breaks in communication and inconsiderate behavior.

Abusive relationships are based on power and control.  In an abusive relationship, one person makes all the decisions about sex, friends, boundaries, even the truth. Abusers shift blame off themselves, accuse others, and isolate and manipulate their partner.

Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

What is a healthy relationship?

In a healthy relationship, both partners are equal and respected. Partners make decisions together, respect each other’s boundaries, and enjoy spending time together. Partners have their own friends and interests. Partners communicate effectively, are honest, and trust each other.  Read more from Love is Respect about open, honest, and safe communication, and healthy boundaries.

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How do I know if a relationship is abusive?

DCCADV says it’s important to recognize the signs:

  • Has your friend been isolated?  Were they outgoing before their relationship but has become more and more withdrawn?  Do you rarely see them anymore?  When you do, are they constantly checking to see when they should leave?
  • Does their partner have an unusual amount of control over their activities, the way they dress, family finances?
  • Does their partner ridicule them regularly in public? Does their partner appear to be volatile?
  • Have you noticed other changes in their or their children’s behavior? Do they appear frightened, nervous, or uncomfortable when their partner is around?

Most relationships are not abusive.  However, if you feel threatened, intimidated, or controlled by your partner you may be experiencing relationship abuse.  It may be helpful to consider the following questions to assess your relationship for abuse.  Does your partner ever:.

  • Degrade you by calling you names or putting you down?
  • Control who you see, where you go or what you do?
  • Stop you from seeing your friends or family members?
  • Use your children to control you?
  • Intimidate you with threatening words, looks or weapons?
  • Shove you, slap you or hit you?
  • Deny their actions or minimize the pain they’ve caused you?
  • Repeatedly blame you

If you said yes to one or more of these questions, please consider reaching out for help.

What if I am the abusive/unhealthy partner?

The first and hardest step is admitting that your behavior is not OK. If you have already taken responsibility for your actions, you are on the right track.

Changing your behavior takes time, and often requires professional help. It is not impossible! You can learn how to treat your partners with respect- physically, sexually, and emotionally.

Look in your area to find a therapist, counselor, and/or a program that focuses on abusive behavior.

See more tips from loveisrespect.

How do I support someone who is in an unhealthy relationship? What if I am in an unhealthy relationship?

Support someone by:

  • Listening without judgment. Listen to what your friend wants. Don’t pressure him/her to make a decision.
  • Learn about local resources, like phone numbers, experts, and organizations, that you can share.
  • Remember that leaving is not always the immediate answer. It’s easy to say “just walk away,” but it is different for the person in the relationship. It takes an average of 5 -7 times for a victim of domestic violence to leave the relationship for good, and some people may never leave.  While it can be frustrating to watch someone you love return to an unsafe situation, remember that alienating your friend or family member will just leave them isolated and less likely to remain safe. Ask them how you can support them, both if they stay and if they leave an abusive relationship.

Support yourself by:

  • Making a safety plan– a personal, practical plan that can help you to avoid a dangerous situation.
  • Seeking out supportive people: a trusted friend or family member can help you think through difficult situations without judgment or pressuring you.
  • Practice self-care: take time to love yourself. Remind yourself of your great value. Try a popular self-care technique like exercise, journaling, baking, etc.

Further resources:

If you are in immediate danger, please call 911.

Love is Respect | Call: 1.866.331.9474 | TTY: 1.866.331.8453 | Text: loveis to 22522 | Online chat
National Domestic Violence Hotline. | Call: 1−800−799−7233 | Online chat available
Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)
The Trevor Project.
The GLBT Talkline at 1-888-843-4564 and GLBT Youth Talkline at 1-800-246-7743.
For transgender folks in crisis, The Trans Lifeline is available by phone daily at 877-565-8860.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline |  Available 24/7 by phone at 1-800-273-8255| Chat.
Your Life Your Voice

Related Reading & Watching

Video: What Makes a Healthy Relationship?

Video: Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

Technology & Dating: What’s Healthy, and What’s Not? by Anitra Edwards, loveisrespect

Romantic Relationships & Red Flags by Astrid Newton