Teen Dating Violence Awareness: A Community Spotlight Conversation

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness month, and we are dedicating this month’s Community Spotlight post to this very important topic. To learn more about Teen Dating Violence and how we can all support the young people in our lives, we talked with some of our partners at the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, Safe Voices, and Spruce Run.

What is Teen Dating Violence?

Teen Dating Violence is a pattern of abusive behaviors used to exert power and control over a dating partner; tactics may be physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, and/or financial. Each relationship is unique, but in many abusive relationships, behaviors escalate over time and become increasingly dangerous for the victim.

We should also consider what a healthy relationship looks like. Everyone has the right to a relationship where both people are equals and treat each other with respect. Everyone should have a voice in decision-making, as well as friends and interests outside of the relationship. Everyone has the right to physical safety and the right to say “no” to any kind of sexual activity–even if it is something they have done before.

What forms of relationship abuse do teens experience?

Like adults, teens experience a range of abusive behaviors, including:

  • Physical (force used to cause fear/injury)
  • Verbal/ Emotional (isolation, threats, humiliation, insults, guilt)
  • Sexual (rape, coercion, restricting access to or tampering with birth control)
  • Digital (use of tech to intimidate, threaten, or harass)
  • Stalking (following someone, tracking on social media, showing up at work/home)
  • Financial (controlling spending, interfering with work hours or employment)

Are there warning signs or behaviors to watch out for?

It’s concerning if a partner expects you to spend all of your time with them and doesn’t want you hanging out with other people, since isolation is often a tactic of abuse. If the person loses their temper or gets jealous over small things, constantly puts you down, threatens to hurt you or themselves, or pressures you to do things you aren’t comfortable with, those are also red flags.

Text and online harassment is really common; if someone is constantly demanding to know where you are and what you’re doing, and gets angry if you don’t respond immediately, it’s a big warning sign.

The use of online and digital media to control and abuse someone is relatively new to many of us. Can you talk about this type of abuse?

Digital Dating Abuse is the use of technologies such as texting and social networking to bully, harass, stalk, or intimidate a partner, and a surprising number of  young people report experiencing digital abuse.

The challenging and scary thing about digital abuse is how quickly it’s evolving and how simple it is for the abuser to do. Because young people today are so accessible to their dating partners, it’s important to educate teens about maintaining healthy relationship boundaries both off and online.

Are there any resources you’d recommend for young people or adults who want to support them?

A lot of teens don’t think about calling a helpline, but it’s a fantastic resource that’s free, confidential, and available 24/7. Helplines are not only for people experiencing abuse– you can call if you want to know how to help a friend, your child, or a student. MCEDV’s helpline can connect callers to local centers: 1.866.834.HELP.

There are also a lot of great websites out there. Love Is Respect and Break the Cycle both have a lot of information, interactive quizzes, and resources to help teens. That’s Not Cool deals specifically with digital abuse.

Family Planning clinics offer caring, confidential services, and we do all we can to support our patients’ health and safety regardless of age and relationship status. For patients experiencing abuse, supporting them fully often means connecting them with a local domestic violence organization.

Community Spotlights highlight the FPA’s partnerships with other organizations. These partnerships are crucial to the care our patients receive, and help increase access to reproductive health services in Maine.

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