According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, one in five high school girls report being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner. Even more scary? More than two-thirds of victims will never report the violence, according to a study conducted by Teen Research Unlimited.
It’s no wonder that Break the Cycle, a national nonprofit organization combating dating violence, refers to teen dating violence as a “silent epidemic.” Because victims of dating violence tend to be so reluctant to report it, the violence slips under the public’s radar. This silence creates an unaware and often unwittingly tolerant environment for the cycle of abuse to continue.
Break the Cycle is dedicated to ending this dangerous pattern through a combination of programs that each tackles a different aspect of the issue at hand. From prevention education, including in-school programs to inform teens about ways to build healthy relationships, to legal services for teen victims, Break the Cycle believes that public awareness is crucial to ending teen dating violence.
According to Break the Cycle, dating violence can be defined as a pattern of abusive behaviors used to exert power and control over a dating partner.
This pattern of behavior often manifests itself in a cycle: the couple experiences a period of tension that results in an explosion of anger and then resolves itself during the “honeymoon” period following an apology on the part of the abuser. This pattern repeats continuously, whether it is mental, physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.
While no teen enters into an abusive relationship willingly, some may be unaware of, or ignore, the signs that a relationship is headed in that direction. Break the Cycle acknowledges ten of the most frequent warning signs that a partner may become abusive:
- Checking your cell phone or email without permission
- Constant put-downs
- Extreme jealousy or insecurity
- Explosive temper
- Financial control
- Isolating you from family or friends
- Mood swings
- Physically hurting you in any way
- Telling you what to do
Unfortunately, many teens do not recognize these signs until they are caught up in the cycle of abuse. That needs to change!
For Quahtayvia, 16, signs of the dating abuse she was experiencing in a past relationship were hard for her to see. “Most people think it would never happen to them. When you’re in it, you’re lost. You don’t know what to do because you like your partner so much, and they say they like you back,” she says.
Now, she can look back and point out some of the signs that her relationship was taking a turn for the worst. “One of the signs is if your partner is trying to take over the relationship…He or she gets upset easily, and tries to break down your confidence,” she says.
For Bria, 17, witnessing her friends’ abusive relationships has been just as difficult. “They like the guy a lot, so they make excuses for him, like ‘Oh, I just got him really mad.’ Some people know that there is [teen dating violence] education out there, but they don’t take the time to learn,” she says.
Teen girls agree, however, that this education is absolutely crucial. Sandra, 17, says: “I think [teen dating education] is really important so that abused girls know that they’re not the only ones, and that they can get out of a relationship like that.”
Joi, 16, agrees, “Education is very important, especially for young girls. They are very vulnerable and give in easily…It’s horrible.”
This past April, Break the Cycle partnered with Verizon’s HopeLine and Dr. Phil to announce a competition hosted by the “Let Your Heart Rule” campaign. The competition invited teen students to work together to create a video public service announcement (PSA) that would speak out against teen dating violence.
Each PSA was entered into a competition to win $1,000 for their school, tablets from Verizon, and the chance for their PSA to be featured on national television. (View the winning PSA here: http://www.letyourheartrule.com/).
Cameka Crawford, a manager at Verizon and an organizer of Verizon’s HopeLine, spoke with Teen Voices regarding the project and Verizon’s role in the “Let Your Heart Rule” campaign.
Teen Voices (TV): How does HopeLine help victims of domestic abuse?
Cameka Crawford (CC): HopeLine from Verizon donates wireless phones–complete with 3,000 minutes of airtime–for use by domestic violence victims and survivors. These phones serve as an important link to emergency services in times of crisis, as well as a private, safe connection to employers, family, and friends.
Also, Verizon customers can get help and information about domestic violence by dialing #HOPE from their wireless phones. This gives callers an immediate connection to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, where they can be directed to local resources.
TV: Why do you think that domestic abuse is such a timely and important issue?
CC: Domestic violence touches so many people…Verizon recognizes that domestic violence is a national problem that has grave consequences for our neighbors, coworkers, friends, and family members.
TV: How did Verizon’s HopeLine react to the “Let Your Heart Rule” campaign?
CC: We were very pleased with the level of participation. We had hundreds of schools enter the contest and we had some great entries. “Let Your Heart Rule” gave teens a platform to speak out against domestic violence. Also, we received thousands of online votes. It was great to see the online community support the students because they worked so hard.
TV: How can teen girls get involved in your cause?
CC: The best way for your readers to get involved with HopeLine is to host a drive in their school and community. And the good news is that hosting a drive is easy. We provide everything they need to get started. For more information, visit www.verizonwireless.com/hopeline.
Teen Voices recognizes that teen dating violence is a crucial issue with potentially deadly consequences for its victims. Teen girls may not have the knowledge necessary to recognize that their neighbor, classmate, or friend is a victim of teen dating violence. Some may not even recognize the warning signs in their own relationship.
Raising awareness is the first and most important step in reducing the number of teen victims!
For a closer look at the concept of teen dating violence, click here.
For some excellent teen dating violence prevention curriculum, see Jewish Women International:
Strong Girls, Healthy Relationships: Friendships, Relationships, and Self-Esteem
Good Guys: Partnership and Positive Masculinity
When Push Comes to Shove, It’s No Longer Love (video)
Shalom Bayit’s Love Shouldn’t Hurt (available in middle school, high school, and college versions)
Teen Voices’ Girl In Action Amanda Thomas took action to help the victims of domestic abuse by starting her own charity, The Big Re-Gift. Read more on how her charity benefits women victims and their children.
If you or someone you know may be a victim of teen dating violence, do not hesitate to reach out for help. There is always someone available who wants to help you.
If you are in immediate danger, call 9-1-1.
If you need to talk to someone, call the 24-hour, 365-day hotline at: 1-866-331-8453. All calls are anonymous and confidential.
If you would like more information on dating violence, or to chat anonymously with someone who can help from 4 pm to 2 am Central Standard Time, visit: http://www.loveisrespect.org/
Interested in helping the cause? Check out ways to get involved: http://www.thesafespace.org/take-action/ and www.verizonwireless.com/hopeline.