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Teen Dating Violence


***Teen dating violence is a complicated subject, and the information below is only a summary of some key information.  For a more thorough treatment, please be sure to see the resources listed at the bottom of this page or talk to a MayDay advocate.


Definition - Dating violence is the use of physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, and financial abuse for the purpose of gaining and maintaining control and power over another person in an intimate or romantic relationship.  


Dating violence can actually begin in elementary school and becomes more common as larger numbers of young people begin to date, leading to statistics like these:  

  • Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner.

  • One in three teens in the U.S. is a victim of physical, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner.

  • One in ten high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped, or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend.

  • Although dating violence victims are usually female and the majority of perpetrators are male, the opposite is not uncommon. 


The Cycle of Violence - Dating relationships begin with positive and romantic expectations.  Over time warning signs of abuse can begin to show up, and eventually a cycle of abuse is established.  This cycle often includes three stages:


1. "Honeymoon" or "Seduction" Period - happy, positive interactions, compliments, etc.

2.  Tension Building - criticism, yelling, swearing, coercion, anger

3.  Explosion - threats and attacks (physical, emotional, sexual)


After the explosion, the cycle usually starts again with apologies, gifts, and promises to do better.  However, each time the cycle repeats, the actions can become more severe and more frequent.


Getting out of an abusive relationship can also become more difficult over time as elements such as hope, fear and love become more established.  In addition, many abusers gain more control, often cutting the victim off socially from friends and family members.  Guilt and shame are used to maintain the cycle; some abusers say they'll do something serious to themselves or to their partner if the relationship falls apart. Others blame the victim for causing them to get angry.


Consequences - Consequences of dating violence can include the following:

  • physical injuries

  • loss of self-esteem

  • social isolation

  • poor performance in school

  • stress-related conditions (headaches,  eating disorders, etc.)

  • increased risk of suicide 


Avoiding Unhealthy Relationships - Ending an unhealthy  dating relationship can be difficult, and dangerous. So it is best to avoid the situation before it starts.  Before dating a person, you should get to know them and their reputation.  Then watch for warning signs.


Warning Signs


  • Extreme jealously

  • Possessiveness

  • Frequent criticism and humiliation

  • Explosive anger

  • Mood swings

  • Alcohol and drug abuse


Getting Out


Abusers make it difficult to get out of an unhealthy relationship, often using promises, manipulation, or threats.  They often become the most violent when dealing with a breakup.  Because of the safety and emotional issues involved, victims should get help from a MayDay advocate or some other trained professional when they decide to end an abusive relationship.  At the very least, they should talk to a trusted adult.

Some key steps to follow include:

1.  Don't wait for the situation to get worse.

2.  Get help.

3.  Know that the abuse is not your fault.  Don't let guilt keep you in an unhealthy situation.

4.  Plan for safety.  Be sure others know of your situation

5.  Avoid confrontation with the abuser.


Helping a Friend


It is difficult to help a friend or family member who you suspect is in an abusive relationship. But the potential consequences are so serious, the problem can't be ignored. Below are some steps we recommend.

  • Reach out to the victim.  Tell her or him you're concerned for their safety.

  • Be supportive and listen patiently. Respect their feelings and their decisions.

  • Reaffirm that the abuse is not their fault.

  • Help your friend see his/her strengths.

  • Focus on your friend, not the abuser.

  • Help the friend connect with resources such as MayDay, Inc.

  • Don't contact the abuser or do anything that could increase hostility.

  • Continue to support your friend after a breakup; this can be a difficult time, and many victims go back to the abusers.



In addition to MayDay, Inc., there are other sources of help and information.





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