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National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month is a time to focus on how abusive behavior impacts our teens. The facts are startling. Nationally, nearly one in ten high school students (9.8 percent) have been hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend. One in four teen girls in a relationship (26 percent) says she has been threatened with violence or experienced verbal abuse from dating partners. Nearly one in three sexually active adolescent girls (31.5 percent) report experiencing physical or sexual abuse from dating partners.
These abusive behaviors are used to exert power and control forming a pattern that may include hitting, kicking, sexual assault, making threats, spreading rumors, telling the person who they can see, what they can wear, where they can go and with whom.
Teens are reluctant to seek help for many reasons that may include hoping the abuser will change, or feeing they have no one to turn to for help. They may be convinced they are to blame for the abuse. Or, they may not know help is available. Still others are not comfortable talking with parents about relationship violence.
The effect of dating violence on teens is varied and long-lasting. Teen victims are more likely than their non-abused peers to smoke, use drugs, engage in unhealthy diet behaviors (taking diet pills or laxatives and vomiting to lose weight), engage in risky sexual behaviors, and attempt or consider suicide. They are at greater risk for becoming perpetrators or victims of domestic violence in adulthood. Discussing warning signs of abuse and encouraging young people to seek help from adults they trust is instrumental to eliminating teen dating abuse and preventing future adult domestic violence.
Safe Nest has several programs to help teens who are dealing with relationship abuse: group and individual counseling for victims, group intervention for teens exhibiting violence in their relationships, and the SAFE-Sisters Advocating for Empowerment (SAFE) program. SAFE is an innovative program created and led by facilitators with direct or indirect experience with domestic violence. This six-week program is designed to educate teen girls on the warning signs of a potentially abusive situation and the characteristics of a healthy relationship. Girls learn about safety planning, ways to increase their social support and how to access help if they are experiencing violence in their relationship.
Eaton DK, KAnn L, Kinchen S, et al. 2010 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance—United States, 2009. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 59(SS5); 1-148. http://www.cdc.mmwf.pfd/ss/ss5905.pdf .
Decker M, Silverman J, Raj A. 2005. Dating Violence and Sexually Transmitted Disease/HIV Testing and Diagnosis Among Adolescent Females. Pediatrics. 116:272-276.
Silverman, J, Raj A, et al. 2001. Dating Violence Against Adolescent Girls and Associated Substance Use, Unhealthy Weight Control, Sexual Risk Behavior, Pregnancy, and Suicidality. JAMA. 286:572-579. Available at http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/reprint/286/5/572.