Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month: Know the Facts

On October 5th, 2017, the dam broke.

Journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey published this article in The New York Times detailing three decades of sexual misconduct by the influential Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein. The story featured an interview with celebrity actress Ashley Judd, who recounted experiences with Weinstein during which he attempted to coerce her into sexual activity in a hotel room while she was filming the movie “Kiss the Girls,” produced by Weinstein.

Judd’s celebrity power – along with the accounts of eight other women who’d had similar experiences with Weinstein – caught the attention of the nation. Less than a week later, on October 10th, 2017, investigative reporter Ronan Farrow published this article in The New Yorker containing allegations from thirteen more women about Weinstein – three of whom claimed Weinstein forced them to have intercourse or perform/receive oral sex on or from him in return for promises of career advancement – and threats to derail their careers if they didn’t comply.

The rest is history: the MeToo Movement was born. Since then, revelations from virtually every corner of American society revealed that sexual coercion, abuse, and even rape are far more common than anyone previously wanted to admit. One by one, women stepped forward and told the world about the sexual misconduct of well-known, well-respected, and powerful men. From sports to politics, business to fashion, religion to education, the stories kept appearing.

As a culture, we finally had to admit it: sexual misconduct by powerful men was common, had been going on for decades, and women were ready to call out their accusers. And it wasn’t just women: young men had also been victimized more than anyone ever realized – or care to admit.

Connecting the Dots

What does the MeToo Movement have to do with Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month?

Everything.

First, it’s created space for honest and unflinching dialogue about sensitive issues like teen dating violence, sexual activity among teens, and the prevalence of sexual abuse and relationship violence experienced by adolescent girls and boys.

Second, it’s empowered victims to come forward and share their stories. It hasn’t made it easier for them – nothing is easy about discussing sexual trauma – but it has given them a forum to speak. It’s given them the knowledge that there are adults out there who will listen, help them process their experiences, and stand with them against their abusers.

Third, it means that when people see articles like this one, or hear about initiatives like “Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month,” they’re more likely to take a moment to read the statistics, reflect on the ugly truth about sexual violence in our culture, and do their part to help move our society forward.

Finally, the birth of MeToo signaled the end of silence, the beginning of the end to passive consent on the part of people who saw but did not understand, knew but said nothing, and – perhaps most importantly – sent a clear message to those who would perpetrate sexual coercion or violence: your free pass has expired and you won’t get away with it anymore.

Which brings us to the topic of this article: teen dating violence. Before we jump into the statistics, we want you to know three things:

  1. It’s real.
  2. It happens more than you think.
  3. It’s preventable.

Teen Dating Violence: The Latest Statistics

In 2010, the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, an agency within the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), launched an important project: The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVIS). The ongoing goal of the project is to perform “a nationally representative survey that assesses sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner violence and victimization in the United States.” This survey is a critical piece in our collective awareness of intimate partner violence. The following data comes from the 2015 NISVIS and LoveisRespect.org.

Teen Dating Violence Facts

  • Around 20% of women and 14% of men experience physical, emotional, or sexual violence during their teen years.
  • About 33% of women and 25% of men will experience relationship violence at some point during their lives.
  • About 1.5 million high school students in the U.S. experience physical abuse from a dating partner each year.
  • Only 33% of teens who experience violence in their relationships tell someone about it

Those numbers are only one part of the story. One reason for the persistence and prevalence of teen dating violence is that adults – including parents and school officials – are unaware of what’s going on. And if they are aware, they’re unsure what to do about it. Here’s the adult side of the story:

  • Roughly 81% of parents think it’s not an issue or say they don’t know if it is or not.
  • 82% of parents say they’d know if their teen was experiencing abuse, but 58% could not correctly identify signs of abuse.
  • Over 80% of high school counselors admit they’re not prepared to handle reports/incidents of teen dating abuse in their schools.

We hope these statistics get your attention and that you initiate a dialog with your teenager about dating violence. Your teen needs to understand what constitutes coercion, what counts as relational violence, and what they can do about it, because the consequences of teen dating violence are significant.

Long-Term Effects of Teen Dating Violence

Adolescent victims of relationship violence are at increased risk of:

  • Developing substance use disorders
  • Developing eating disorders
  • Participating in risky sexual behavior
  • Experiencing domestic violence late in life

Other alarming facts associated with adolescent victims of sexual violence include:

  • Girls who have been sexually abused are:
    • Six times more likely to become pregnant as teens
    • Twice as likely to contract a sexually transmitted disease
  • 50% of youth who are victims of both dating violence and rape attempt suicide
    • That’s in contrast to 12.5% of non-abused girls and 5.4% of non-abused boys

Those are the numbers – and we’re sure we have your attention now. Keep an eye on this space for the rest of the month: we’ll post useful information on identifying the warning signs of sexual abuse, warning signs of unhealthy dating dynamics that can lead to dating violence, and what you and your teen can do if they – or any of their friends – are victims of teen dating violence.

In the meantime, share these stats with your teen, open a dialogue about the issues, and take advantage of these online resources: