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Teen Dating Violence & Prevention

Teen dating violence (TDV) is a type of intimate partner violence. It occurs between two people in a close relationship.

TDV includes four types of behavior:

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

Teen dating violence also referred to as, “dating violence”, can take place in person or electronically, such as repeated texting or posting sexual pictures of a partner online without consent. 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—but these behaviors can become abusive and develop into serious forms of violence. However, many teens do not report unhealthy behaviors because they are afraid to tell family and friends.

How Big Is The Problem?

TDV is common. It affects millions of teens in the U.S. each year. Data from CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey and the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey indicate that:

  • Nearly 1 in 11 female and approximately 1 in 15 male high school students report having experienced physical dating violence in the last year.

  • About 1 in 9 female and 1 in 36 male high school students report having experienced sexual dating violence in the last year.

  • 26% of women and 15% of men who were victims of contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their life first experienced these or other forms of violence by that partner before age 18.

  • The burden of TDV is not shared equally across all groups—sexual minority groups are disproportionately affected by all forms of violence, and some racial/ethnic minority groups are disproportionately affected by many types of violence.

What are the consequences?

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

  • Experience symptoms of depression and anxiety

  • Engage in unhealthy behaviors, like using tobacco, drugs, and alcohol

  • Exhibit antisocial behaviors, like 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 example, youth who are victims of dating violence in high school are at higher risk for victimization during college.

When dating violence is present among teens it tends to lead to dating violence in their adult years, as well. Dating violence is prevalent among both heterosexual teens and LGBT teens. And while both groups are at risk for violence and abuse, LGBT teens are much more at risk than previously thought.

Urban Institute Study on LGBT Dating Violence Among Teens

The Urban Institute’s recent study focusing on dating violence among LGBT youth-produced some frightening statistics.

The study looked at a total of 5,647 young people. Among those, 3,745 reported either being in a current dating relationship or have ended a dating relationship within the past year.

Across the board, LGBT youth are at higher risk of all sorts of dating violence than are heterosexual youth. Transgender and female you are at the highest risk of teen dating violence.

Here are some statistics from the Urban Institute study:

  • 43% of LGBT youth and 29% of heterosexual youth reported being victims of physical dating violence.

  • 59 % of LGBT youth and 46% of heterosexual youth reported emotional abuse from a dating partner.

  • 37% of LGBT youth and 26% of heterosexual youth reported cyber/phone abuse and harassment.

  • 23% of LGBT and 12% of heterosexual youth have reported sexual coercion.

Particularly frighting is the violence level among transgender youth. Transgender youth represented a small percentage of the overall number of youths involved in the study, yet as a group, they reported the highest levels of violence, harassment, and sexual coercion.

Using the categories above, transgender teens reported:

  • 89% had experienced physical dating violence.

  • 61% had been sexually coerced.

  • 59% had been emotionally abused.

  • 56% had suffered cyber and phone abuse and harassment.

These percentages are significantly higher than for lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth, and much higher than for heterosexual youth.

Factors That May Place LGBT Youth at Increased Risk

LGBT youth face negative feedback from peers, teachers, society, and even from family members due to their sexual identity and gender identity. This is particularly true when a teen comes out to his family and peers. This is a time when LGBT youth can develop depression and suicidality.

LGBT youth also often feel unsafe at school which can lead to increased truancy and lower grades. LGBT youth also reported higher rates of perpetrating acts of victimization upon others. It is unclear at present why this number is higher in LGBT youth and lower among their heterosexual counterparts.

Early Intervention Programs Could Help

What is clear from the study is that schools need to implement intervention and prevention programs and strategies specifically aimed at LGBT youth. The school’s positive emotional message and climate toward LGBT youth is an important factor in mitigating bullying and other victimization tactics.

Having a school counselor on campus who is specially trained in spotting victimized youth and intervening is a key factor in a school’s safety plan for youth.

On the positive side, LGBT youth are more likely to seek out help than their heterosexual counterparts when victimized. Because of this, peer-led groups can be a particularly effective measure for LGBT youth.

Additional Studies Are Needed

There are still many unanswered questions about the increased vulnerability of LGBT youth and mitigating factors that work to protect this vulnerable group. There are also unanswered questions regarding the role that gender identity and sexual orientation play in abuse.

Additional studies are needed, including longitudinal studies. Longitudinal studies could help us understand more about what factors place LGBT more at risk for abuse and the effects of this abuse, both in the short and long-term.

How can we stop teen dating violence before it starts?

Supporting the development of healthy, respectful, and nonviolent relationships has the potential to reduce the occurrence of TDV and prevent its harmful and long-lasting effects on individuals, their families, and the communities where they live. During the pre-teen and teen years, it is critical for youth to begin learning the skills needed to create and maintain healthy relationships. These skills include things like how to manage feelings and how to communicate in a healthy way.

Establishing A Support Network

Whenever possible, seek support from friends and family members. If you feel you cannot discuss your situation with friends or other family members, find a self-help or support group. These groups provide an opportunity for you to talk to other people who are experiencing the same type of problems. They can listen and offer valuable advice.

Seeking Counseling

Therapy can be beneficial for both the individual with mental illness and other family members. A mental health professional at Wellmore can suggest ways to cope and better understand your loved one’s illness. We offer an array of outpatient and intensive in-home programs for children, teens, and adults to treat ADHD, depression, anxiety as well as other behavioral health issues.

Call us at 203-756-7287 (Children & Adolescents), 203-755-1143 (Adults), for more information. Telehealth and telephonic services are also offered.

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