Teen dating violence

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The Cycle of My Life
By:  Megan, Age 16

It all starts out wonderful until he strikes
Constantly hearing "I'm sorry"
Until it doesn't matter anymore
Forgiving every time, forgetting never
Calling out for him to stop
Never stopping until it is almost too late
Never thinking about the consequences of his actions
Just making me think out every possible consequence of mine
Hearing "I'm sorry" all over again
Meeting him with open eyes
Awaiting the gifts I know will pour forward
Until it all stops and the cycle begins all over again

As the poem depicts, teen dating violence is typically not a one-time incident, but rather a pattern of repeated abuse. Studies have shown up to 76 percent of teens experience some form of dating violence. Nearly one-half of teens in relationships report being controlled, threatened or pressured to do things they did not want to do. 

The patterns and signs of teen dating violence reflect those present in adult abusive relationships. In both cases, there is often a pattern of repeated violence that escalates over time with a significant risk of violence up to and including death when the abused partner decides to leave the relationship. Usually after the abuse, the abuser apologizes and promises to change.

The three main types of dating abuse include physical, sexual, verbal and emotional.

Verbal and emotional abuse involves one person trying to control their partner's feelings or behaviors. It includes, but is not limited to, name-calling and put-downs, preventing the person from seeing or talking to their friends or family and making the person feel responsible for the abuse or violence.

Physical abuse involves any intentional unwanted physical contact. Physical abuse does not have to leave a mark or bruising. It includes, but is not limited to pushing, slapping, strangulation, etc.

Sexual abuse involves any sexual behavior that is unwanted. Examples of sexual abuse include, but are not limited to, unwanted kissing or touching, forcing someone to go farther sexually than they want to or date and acquaintance rape.

The consequences of teen dating violence create many health-related issues for teens. A feeling of disempowerment and hopelessness can often result from being in an abusive relationship and can result in self-harming coping strategies such as substance abuse, eating disorders and suicide.

A recent study conducted amongst high school students revealed 76 percent of female high school students surveyed experienced one or more incidents of unwanted sexual activity, including unwanted kissing, hugging, groping and/or intercourse.

Adolescent girls who reported having been sexually or physically abused in a dating relationship were more than twice as likely as non-abused girls to report smoking, drinking and using illegal drugs. These girls were also nearly three times as likely as non-abused girls to report binge eating and purging. 

Adolescent girls who were recent victims of dating violence were 61 percent more likely to attempt suicide.

Adolescents that experience teen dating abuse are more likely to end up in abusive relationships as adults. Among adult victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner, 22.4 percent of women and 15 percent of men first experienced some form of partner violence between 11 and 17 years of age.

Nearly 80 percent of adolescent girls who have been physically abused in their intimate relationships continue to date their abusers. Verbal and emotional abuse can erode a victim's self-esteem, oftentimes resulting in the victim keeping the abuse a secret from friends and family.

The following is a quote from an adolescent girl who left her abusive relationship and demonstrates how difficult it can be:

"It was like a honeymoon when we started dating for the first couple of months. It just started off with mental and verbal abuse. And then I remember the very first time that he actually hit me. The hard part for me was not the fact that he hit me, but the fact that he made me feel like I was nothing; it was a giant secret. I didn't even tell any of my friends or my best friend or my mother. I couldn't tell a soul. I felt that it was my fault and that everything was the result of me being not worthy."

If you or a loved one feels abused, threatened, scared or unsafe in a relationship, the following resources are available: 
- Love is Respect/The National Dating Abuse Helpline at 1-866-331-9474
- National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233
- Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS) has a 24-hour Help Line at 608-251-4445
- The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (NRCDV) at 1-800-837-2238
- The TONI Connection
- Family Advocacy at 720-847-6453