Teen Dating Violence: Recognize the Danger Signs

Dating violence is any abuse that happens within a romantic or sexual relationship. Don't let it happen to you.When you think of an ideal date, what pictures spring to mind?

A nice dinner, lots of laughter, a good movie? Flowers, love notes, fun on the town?

Or just . . . not getting hit?

For far too many teens, the last choice is all they have to hope for.

Are you one of them? Do you have a friend who is?

Then you need this post. During Teen Dating Violence Awareness month, the team here at Choices Pregnancy Center wants to help you recognize dating dangers and stay safe.

To start, we’re going to call dating violence like we see it. It’s violence. And it shouldn’t happen to you.

What is Dating Violence?

Denise Kerkhoff, former program director at New Horizons Crisis Center, defines dating violence this way: “It’s any type of violence within any type of romantic or sexual relationship.”

Hear that? It doesn’t have to happen on a date. And it doesn’t have to leave a mark.

Many people think dating violence means assault, rape, or murder. But while that may be where it ends, that usually isn’t where it starts.

“It’s not going to start with physical abuse,” Kerkhoff said. “It starts with verbal and emotional abuse.” Problems only escalate from there.

It’s easy to be confused by the ways relationships are portrayed in movies and the media. They make it hard to distinguish between how real love acts and the kind of relationship that is actually bad for you. We’ve described real love before. Now let’s tear the veil off dating violence.

What Does Dating Violence Look Like?

Dating violence can include many types of abuse. Here are some examples:

  • Verbal abuse: name-calling, criticizing, blaming, shaming, teasing on sensitive topics, using “the silent treatment” as punishment
  • Emotional abuse: threatening to harm you or someone/something you love, ridiculing your feelings or beliefs, threatening suicide if you leave, threatening to reveal secrets or post embarrassing pictures, driving dangerously in order to scare you
  • Sexual abuse: touching you (over or under clothes) in unwanted ways, rape, getting you drunk or doped up so you’ll have sex—basically, any sexual activity you don’t willingly say “yes” to
  • Physical abuse: harming your body with or without a weapon, homicide
  • Others: see this site for other forms of abuse

Abusive relationships tend to follow a cycle of violence. Check out this infographic to see what we mean. Does any of this sound like a relationship you know?

The cycle of violence in dating relationships runs from the honeymoon phase through tension-building and then explosion. Then it begins all over again.

So, let’s say you have a gut feeling that something’s wrong with your relationship. But maybe you can’t quite point to abusive events.  How can you escape from the Cycle of Violence before you get caught in it?

The key: watch for the early warning signs. If you spot these, it’s a good time to end the relationship.

Controlling Behaviors: Red Flags for Abuse

Recognizing red flags in your dating partner’s behavior can help you escape from a relationship about to turn bad. According to Kerkhoff, these are some of the signs to look out for:

  • Extreme jealousy. Reacting harshly to someone you’re seen talking to, getting angry about unreturned texts or calls (especially constant ones), isolating you from others, grabbing your phone to see who you’ve contacted . . . These are not healthy behaviors based on trust.
  • Cruelty to animals. Abusers pick on the helpless or “inferior.” Animals are an easy target. If the person can manipulate you into feeling bad about yourself, you’ll be his/her next target.
  • Insulting speech. A person who puts others down in jokes and conversation is bad news. Whether they bully with words or actions, they’re bullies. They are trouble waiting to happen.
  • Past relationship violence. Don’t assume that the person was only mean to past boyfriends or girlfriends because those people were jerks. If it has happened before, believe it can happen to you.
  • Dictating your behavior. Telling you what to wear, how to act, what to say, and whom to hang out with are signs they want to control you. This person wants to be your boss, not your friend.
  • Coercion. When a person talks you into things you really don’t want to do, either by threatening or by saying that “a good boyfriend/girlfriend would,” that’s not okay. Stick to the boundaries you’ve drawn for yourself. Don’t stick to a person who doesn’t respect you for that.

What to Do If It’s Happening to You

If you or your friend is involved in a relationships that’s leading farther into the Cycle of Violence, the time to get help is now.

If you’re a teen, Kerkhoff recommends that you enlist the help of a trustworthy adult you know well. Your parents may be the best bet, even though it can feel hard to talk to them about what’s going on.

For help outside (or in addition to) your family, in our area you can contact one of these agencies dedicated to serving victims of violence and abuse:

If you’re a teen woman or man facing a pregnancy or raising a young child and struggling with troubled relationships, Choices Pregnancy Center can help, too. We work with teens like you to evaluate and develop healthy relationships, in non-judgmental one-on-one sessions with our staff. Call or text us today.