– Jenny, 18 years old
Jenny, 18, has been hurt as many times as she’s been in love. At age 13, her boyfriend was physically abusive.
“He grabbed me by my neck one time, and I had fingerprints, bruising,” she explains.
Later, Jenny dated Mateo.
“He promised me, he said I promise you, I’ll never hurt you like they did,” Jenny says tearfully.
“And I promised her that, but I didn’t keep my promise,” Mateo, 17, admits. “Verbal abuse, emotional. You name it,” he says.
Research in the Journal of American Medicine finds that 42% of teens have been the victim of dating violence. 17% have been the perpetrator.
“Violent activity and dating violence begins early in adolescence; you know, begins when dating begins,” says psychiatrist Dr. Lynn Ponton, author of a book about the dating lives of teenagers.
She says too often kids are so excited to have their first boyfriend or girlfriend that they rush into a relationship. They become intimate too soon, before they even really get to know each other. By the time they know their partner is abusive, a lot of damage is already done.
Other research shows that girls in violent dating relationships are more likely to experiment with drugs, develop eating disorders and attempt suicide.
Experts say that parents must convince kids to slow down.
“By, I think, by actually setting up structures for kids to participate in where they get to know the people first before they’re off with them privately,” says Dr. David Fenstermaker, a clinical psychologist.
He suggests that group dates are safer. At the bowling alley, the water park or the ice rink, kids can get to know each other, and slowly discover what really lies in the heart of their date.
Tips for Parents
‘Dating violence’ may seem like a vague, murky term, but the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control defines ‘dating violence’ very specifically:
Dating Violence: “The perpetration or threat of an act of violence by at least one member of an unmarried couple on the other member within the context of dating or courtship. This violence encompasses any form of sexual assault, physical violence, and verbal or emotional abuse.”
How often does dating violence happen? Estimates vary, but the NCIPC offers these statistics:
24% of 8th and 9th graders have been victims of nonsexual dating violence.
8% of 8th and 9th graders have been victims of sexual dating violence.
Among high school students, the average prevalence rate for nonsexual dating violence is 22%.
Among college students the rate is 32%.
27% of college females have been victims of rape or attempted rape since age 14.
Over half of 1,000 females at a large urban university surveyed said they had experienced some form of “unwanted sex.”
Women are 6 times more likely than men to experience violence at the hands of an intimate partner.
According to the Massachusetts Department of Education, teen dating violence follows a pattern which is similar to adult domestic violence. The major elements of this pattern are:
Violence that affects people from all socio-economic, racial and ethnic groups.
Repeated violence that escalates.
Violence that increases in severity the longer the relationship continues.
Violence and abusive behaviors are interchanged with apologies and promises to change.
Increase danger for the victim when trying to terminate the relationship.
Occurrence in heterosexual and gay and lesbian relationships.
How can you tell if your teenager may be suffering from dating violence? Here are some signs from the Massachusetts Department of Education.
Is your child involved with someone who:
Is overly possessive and demonstrating a real need to control
Is jealous to the extreme point where it becomes an obsession
Is into controlling your child’s everyday events
Is prone to violent outbursts
Is a person who has a history of poor relationships
Is infringing upon your child’s freedom to make choices for himself/herself
Is limiting the time your child spends with other people
Is using external pressure to influence decision making
Is into passing blame and denying their own mistakes
Is in the habit of using put downs or playing mind games
Is not a person who can be disagreed with easily
Is encouraging your child to keep secrets
Is causing your child to become more withdrawn
And for teenagers trying to get out of a violent relationship, the following advice from the Boulder (CO) Police Department:
Tell your parents, a friend, a counselor, a clergyman, or someone else whom you trust and who can help.
The more isolated you are from friends and family, the more control the abuser has over you.
Alert the school counselor or security officer. Keep a daily log of the abuse.
Do not meet your partner alone.
Do not let him or her in your home or car when you are alone.
Avoid being alone at school, your job, on the way to and from places.
Tell someone where you are going and when you plan to be back.
Plan and rehearse what you would do if your partner became abusive.
National Center for Injury Protection and Control
Massachusetts Department of Education
Boulder (CO) Police Department
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia