By Kira Doar, AWARE® Program Director
June is Gun Violence Awareness Month. As we reflect on the devastating school shootings of the past year and discuss to how to prevent similar tragedies in the future, the orange awareness ribbon urges us to remember an overlooked issue that shares its awareness month color and serves as an indicator for future violence: teen dating violence.
In Parkland, Florida, in February, we heard descriptions of the shooter as someone who had abused his girlfriend and stalked another classmate.1 At a high school in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, in March, a student shot two of his classmates, including his recent ex-girlfriend who died in the days that followed. As with adult perpetrators of mass violence, these histories of violence against women and girls are not unusual. Between 2009 and 2016, 54% of mass shootings involved the shooting of an intimate partner or family member and domestic violence was a contributing factor in approximately 20% of mass public shootings.2
In the United States, one in three adolescents will experience verbal,emotional, sexual, or physical abuse from a dating partner and, each year, over 1.5 million high school students suffer physical abuse from an intimate partner.3 Despite the prevalence of this public health crisis, dating violence is often under reported and not treated as seriously as other forms of intimate partner violence. Not knowing what resources are available, not understanding the fundamentals of a healthy relationship, and thinking abuse is only physical all contribute to only one-third of young people who experience abuse ever telling anyone about it.4 Teens are also less likely to seek law enforcement assistance or pursue protective orders when they’re exposed to an unacceptably high risk of physical violence.5
It’s not just teens that have trouble recognizing dating violence and taking it seriously. Research found that almost two-thirds of school violence prevention policies don’t include plans for handling situations of intimate partner violence amongst adolescents and 62% of schools hadn’t provided training to administrators or faculty in the past two years on how to aid victims of teen dating violence.6 Even when teens do disclose to a trusted adult, they may mistakenly only understand abuse as physical violence and write off emotional or verbal abuse,such as gaslighting, manipulation, possessiveness, and jealousy, as teenage drama or angst.7
To help prevent future violence, it is critical for everyone to recognize the warning signs of teen dating violence and take them seriously. Here are a few warning signs to look for:
- Apologizing and making excuses for their partner’s behavior;
- Calling and/or texting their partner excessively;
- Reacting in an extreme way when being asked to put their phone away or turn it off;
- Canceling and changing plans often;
- Fearing upsetting or angering their partner;
- Giving up time with friends and family or on activities they used to be a part of;
- Having drastic changes in weight, appearance, wardrobe, or grades;
- Using drugs and alcohol; and
- Having sudden change in mood or personality (i.e. become anxious or depressed,acting out, being secretive, losing confidence).
If you recognize these warning signs in a teen, it is important to talk to them about it, listen to them, believe them, take what they say seriously,and let them know that you are there for them and that they are not alone. If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, please call JCADA’s free and confidential helpline: 1-877-88-JCADA (52232).
- Tripolskii, Anton. Firearms and Teen Dating Violence. The National Domestic Violence and Firearms Resource Center. 1 March 2018.
- Dating Abuse Statistics. Loveisrespect.org.
- Herman, Lily. Teen Dating Violence is an Indicator of Gun Violence. Teen Vogue. 19 May 2018.