The first thing to do if you’re the victim of teen dating violence – or any intimate partner violence, no matter how old you are – is this: know that violence, anger, or controlling behavior is not a sign of how much someone loves you. Rather, it’s a sign something inside the angry, violent, or controlling person needs to be addressed and healed – and it’s not your job to heal them. Your job is to understand you deserve a loving relationship based on mutual kindness, respect, and trust.
Straight up. Don’t settle for anything short of that. Ever.
The second thing to do is unpack the word victim. We want to remove the negative stigma attached to the word and remind you that if you are the victim of a crime (make no mistake: dating violence is a crime), being a victim does not define you.
It’s very important for you to understand the following three things:
- Victim does not mean weak, powerless, or damaged.
- Being a victim of does not diminish your value as a human being in any way whatsoever.
- A victim is someone who has had something done to them by another: whatever happened is not your fault. The fault lies entirely with the perpetrator of the violence, and no one else.
You are and always have been a complete human. You’re more than one event, one series of events, or one relationship.
The next thing for you to do is understand these three things:
- You are not alone.
- The law is on your side.
- You can do something about it.
Now that you know all that, it’s time to learn what you can do if you’re the victim of dating violence.
Dating Violence Defined
If you’re in immediate danger, call 911
First, let’s get on the same page about what we mean when we say dating violence. But before that, if you think you may be the victim of dating violence you can take the anonymous online quiz in this article.
Now, to the task at hand: defining dating violence. To create the lists below, we collated resources from The National Center for Victims of Crime, The Center for Family Safety and Healing, New Choices, Inc: Breaking the Cycle, The New York State Police, The Centers for Disease Control, and The National Safe Place For Youth.
Please visit those sites for more details and statistics on teen dating violence.
Based on the information available from these helpful sites – which you really should check out – we’ve arrived at a simplified definition of teen dating violence: abuse that occurs within dating relationships between people ages 12-18. The abuse can be physical, emotional, or sexual. Here’s what we mean:
Examples of physical dating violence or abuse include:
- Grabbing and not letting go
- Hair pulling
Examples of emotional dating violence or abuse include:
- Name calling
- Threats of any sort
- Extreme jealousy
- Unreasonable ultimatums
- Attempting to control what you do, wear, say, who you spend your time with, or how you spend your time
Examples of sexual dating violence or abuse include:
- Unwanted kissing
- Unwanted touching
- Forced intercourse
- Forced sexual activity of any kind
When you first read the definition above, you likely thought it was fairly broad. Then when you read the bulleted lists, you probably realized the definition covers a wide range of behaviors that people accept in their romantic relationships every day. That’s both sad and true – especially where emotional abuse and certain forms of sexual abuse are concerned. Far too many people accept name calling, jealous threats, and sexual coercion in their relationships. Physical abuse is not limited to punching, emotional abuse is not limited to manipulation, and sexual abuse is not limited to rape. Pushing is physical abuse. Threatening to break up if you don’t… is emotional abuse. Forced kissing or unwanted groping is sexual abuse.
All of it is illegal.
Everything on the list above is part of the definition(s) of dating violence used by law enforcement: we’re not making that up. To double-check, start with the New York State Trooper website above, then look around at other definitions from other states. You’ll find similar language in local, state, and federal statutes.
Your takeaway: the law is on your side.
If It Happens to You: Steps to Take
You may feel scared, alone, angry, sad, anxious, confused, helpless, hopeless, and embarrassed. You may feel some of these things sometimes, some of them all the time, all of them sometimes, or all of them all at once. Maybe you’re wrestling with these emotions right this very moment. We get it – and we want you to know that all these reactions are common to victims of dating violence. We say this because we want you to know – we really really want you to know – that other people have been right where you are. And they made it through to the other side. Many of those people have also made it part of their lives to help people in your position.
If and when you call the crisis phone lines we’ll list below, it’s likely you’ll talk to someone who’s been in your shoes. They want to help you, and the help they give is based on personal experience. All that to reiterate what we said above: you are not alone, no matter how isolated you might feel right now.
Teen Dating Violence: What to Do if You’re a Victim
Your parents are the first, go-to option. However, if you have reasons not to tell your parents, your next best option is any adult in your life who has an official position of responsibility. Your school is a good place to start: if you have a teacher, a guidance counselor, a coach, or a principal you trust, talk to them about it. IMPORTANT: some of these adults are required to report any maltreatment of minors to police, including peer-to-peer dating violence.
If you decide to talk to someone but the idea of getting the authorities involved scares you off, call one of the anonymous crisis lines below. They’ll help you sort out who to talk to, when to talk to them, and how to do it. We’ll repeat it again: the people on these crisis lines are there for you and they want to help. If there are no adults you feel you can trust and you don’t want to call a hotline, then confide in a trusted friend: they want to help, too.
Write down each incident of violence or abuse that occurs, no matter how small. Include as many details as you can. Start by describing the incident itself, then include the location, date, time of the incident, and any witnesses. Make a record of every red-flag incident that occurs, no matter how minor it may seem at the time. If your abuser uses technology to threaten or intimidate you, save every relevant email, text, or instant/direct message. The more information you have, the better. If you’re unsure how to document incidents of abuse or violence, use this template or follow these guidelines. The first link takes you to a document designed for stalking victims but can work perfectly to document dating violence, and the second takes you to a set of instructions designed specifically for people in abusive relationships.
Leave the relationship.
Put yourself first. Your well-being is the most important thing in this situation – that includes your emotional, physical, and sexual health. Not the feelings of the person abusing you and not the opinions of your friends or theirs: put yourself first. If you’re unsure how to get out of your relationship, call one of the crisis lines below for expert advice. You can also follow this safety plan. Relationship violence can escalate quickly, so it’s important for you to take action as soon as you experience any emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. In case you’re wondering:
ONE TIME IS ONE TOO MANY
Resources for Victims of Dating Violence
If you’re the victim of dating violence, we’ll say it again: you are not alone. The law is on your side. You should also know experienced advocates are standing by, ready to help you. Before we offer those resources, we want to reiterate that if you’re in imminent danger or you feel threatened and fear for your safety in any way, pick up the phone and call the police right away. Do not wait for the behavior to escalate, because statistics show dating violence can escalate quickly. If you’re not in immediate danger, here’s a list of phone numbers (and one website) to call for help and advice:
- Victim Connect Hotline: 1 (855) 484-2846
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1 (800) 799-7233 En Espanol: 1 (800) 787-3224
- National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1 (800) 656-4673
- The National Sexual Assault Online Hotline: https://hotline.rainn.org/online/
The most comprehensive resource for help and information on teen dating violence is maintained by Love is Respect. If you’re looking for one website that answers virtually every question you might have about teen dating issues, including but not limited to dating violence, Love is Respect is the site to visit. Finally, two sites similar in scope and mission to Love is Respect are Break the Cycle and That’s Not Cool.
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA. He writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.