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Protect Teens from Dating Violence

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Teen Violence Facts

  • 1 in 5 teens who have been in a serious relationship report being hit, slapped or pushed by a partner.
  • 1 in 3 girls who have been in a serious relationship say they’ve been concerned about being physically hurt by their partner.
  • 1 in 4 teens who have been in a serious relationship say their boyfriend or girlfriend has tried to prevent them from spending time with friends or family; the same number have been pressured to only spend time with their partner.
  • 1 in 3 girls between the ages of 16 and 18 say sex is expected for people their age if they’re in a relationship; half of teen girls who have experienced sexual pressure report they are afraid the relationship would break up if they did not give in.
  • Nearly 1 in 4 girls who have been in a relationship (23%) reported going further sexually than they wanted as a result of pressure.

(Facts from loveisrespect.org.) 

Congress Acts

In March, the House of Representatives passed House Resolution 1081, to affirm its support for awareness and prevention of teen dating violence. The legislation encourages “appropriate programs and activities that promote awareness and prevention of [this] crime.”

According to The National Center for Victims of Crime, one survey showed forty percent of high school students reporting violence in a dating relationship. Fifteen percent of teens reported violence in the severe range - being hit, thrown down, or attacked with a weapon. Among 8th and 9th grade students, eight percent reported being victims of sexual dating violence.

All cases reflect the abuser’s desire for control. A fairly typical story of one such relationship comes from Nicole, a teen who met a boy at summer school when she was fifteen. “Slowly, he became controlling and verbally abusive. And then finally, it led to him hitting me. It would be just like a flicking of the head… and then one time it was a hit in the face. And then he was choking me on the stairs.”

The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence defines teen dating violence as: “[a] pattern of actual or threatened acts of physical, sexual, verbal and/or emotional abuse, perpetrated by an adolescent against a current or former dating partner. The abusive teen uses this pattern of violent and coercive behavior – either in a heterosexual or homosexual dating relationship – in order to gain power and maintain control over their dating partner.”

Studies of dating violence, and programs to eliminate it, have increased. But awareness of this troubling problem remains low. “Few adolescents understand what a healthy relationship looks like,” says Dr. Elizabeth Miller, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California, Davis School of Medicine. Adolescents can mistake the excessive - even abusive - attention of boys as an expression of love.

An important goal of dating abuse education is to inform teens about what constitutes abuse, and to help them realize that it’s wrong. Misunderstanding holds teens back from reporting the violence, contributing to continued abusive relationships. A dating violence website, TheSafeSpace.org, explains: “nearly 80% of girls who have been physically abused in their intimate relationships continue to date their abuser.”

Teens may fail to report abuse due to shame, fear of lost confidentiality, fear of a parent’s anger, or fear of losing a dating relationship. This failure to report is more damaging than it would be for adults. Independently teens cannot necessarily escape abuse since they lack their own homes, transportation, and finances. Restraining orders, a useful measure against domestic violence, are unavailable to teens without parental or guardian help in many states. Certain states do allow teens to apply on their own, so it’s vital for teens to learn the specific laws where they live.

Today, verbal and emotional abuse is often perpetrated with cell phones and text-messages. One partner will use a phone to constantly monitor the other’s whereabouts and demand instant responses in an effort for control. “Thirty percent of teens say they’ve been text messaged up to 30 times an hour by a partner trying to find out where they are, what they’re doing or who they are with.” The internet and phones are also being used to harass and insult, pressure a partner into sexual behavior, spread rumors, share embarrassing photos, or threaten physical harm.

Since successful prevention involves early education programs, policymakers can play a role in preventing teen dating violence. A minimum of seven states already has laws promoting development of curriculum on teen dating violence. In states that do not yet collect data on teen dating violence, policymakers can work with health officials to do so. Lawmakers in all states can analyze their current policies to make strategies for prevention.

In March 2009, the Break the Cycle program issued a report card, grading the fifty states on the protection they provide for victims of dating abuse. Ohio received a grade of F, but has subsequently passed “Tina’s Law,” which requires schools to work towards prevention of teen dating violence.

In February, California’s legislature introduced SB 1300, which “would authorize a school district to provide teen dating violence prevention education.” Connecticut’s HB 5315 “would include teen dating violence and domestic violence education as part of the in-service training program for certified teachers, administrators and pupil personnel.” And Pennsylvania’s HB 2026 “would amend the public school code of 1949 to provide for dating violence education.”

Some evidence indicates that by late adolescence it will already be difficult to correct dating violence habits that develop earlier but programs have probability of success especially when conducted in social settings like schools.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provided $18 million in grants for preventive measures. Indianapolis organizations will use $1 million of this to train police officers in public schools to recognize signs of abuse.

One potential consequence of teen violence reflected in adulthood has been documented by Amanda Kloer. Writing for Change.org, her research shows that violence in a dating relationship is often the first way a male partner takes control over his female partner. Many of the young women trapped into human trafficking were originally tricked this way.

In other efforts to aid at-risk youth, Congress is in the process of reauthorizing the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Act, S-678. The bill will keep runaway youths out of jail and improve conditions of confinement for youth. Services provided under the bill will include delinquency prevention, intervention, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and aftercare programs.


Support legislation to prevent family violence and teen violence!
H.R. 4116: a Resolution to reauthorize the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA), and S-678: the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Act of 2009

Please write or call your member of Congress to support passage of these bills. Dial 202-224-3121 to reach the Capitol Switchboard or call your representative in their district office.

Contact your state legislator to find out what your state is doing to protect teens from violence.

Help spread awareness in your community! Find an awareness toolkit on teen dating violence.

Last Updated: 05/05/2010

© 2014 United Methodist Women