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Dating violence starts during teen years

Published in For the Health of It Author: Rena Sespene-Hinz, MSW, ACSW, LISW

Dating violence is a type of intimate partner violence. Unhealthy relationships can start early and last a lifetime. Teens often think some behaviors, like teasing and name-calling, are a “normal” part of a relationship. However, these behaviors can become abusive and develop into more serious forms of violence.

Four types of dating violence

  • Physical violence is when a person hurts or tries to hurt a partner by hitting, kicking, or using another type of physical force.
  • Sexual violence is forcing or attempting to force a partner to take part in a sex act, sexual touching, or a non-physical sexual event (e.g., sexting) when the partner does not or cannot consent.
  • Stalking is a pattern of repeated, unwanted attention and contact by a partner that causes fear or concern for one’s own safety or the safety of someone close to the victim.
  • Psychological aggression is the use of verbal and non-verbal communication with the intent to harm another person mentally or emotionally and/or exert control over another person.

Unhealthy, abusive or violent relationships can have severe consequences and short and long-term negative effects on a developing teen. Youth who are victims of dating violence are more likely to:

  • Experience symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • Engage in unhealthy behaviors such as using tobacco, drugs and alcohol
  • Exhibit antisocial behaviors such as lying, theft, bullying or hitting
  • Think about suicide

Violence in an adolescent relationship sets the stage for problems in future relationships including intimate partner violence and sexual violence perpetration and/or victimization throughout life. For instance, youth who are victims of dating violence in high school are at higher risk for victimization during college.

By the numbers

  • One in every five high school students report being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner. One in every five students between the ages of 11 and 14 say their friends are victims of dating violence with nearly half experiencing verbal abuse.
  • One in three teen girls is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner.
  • Forty-three percent of reported cases of dating violence occurred in a school building or on school grounds.
  • Fifty percent of 14 to 24-year-olds have experienced digital dating abuse.
  • Two out of three teens in abusive relationships do not tell anyone about the abuse.
  • Among adult victims of rape, physical violence and/or stalking by a dating partner, more than 22 percent of women and 15 percent of men first experience some form of partner violence between 11 and 17 years of age.
  • Victims of digital abuse are twice as likely to be physically abused, two and a half times as likely to be psychologically abused and five times as likely to be sexually coerced.
  • Teaching young people about healthy relationships and ways to avoid physical dating violence can reduce physical and sexual dating violence by 60 percent.

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