Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

February is thought of as the month of love. Midway through the month, we celebrate Valentine’s Day.  The holiday of hearts, flowers, candy, and special dates with your significant other where you display your love for the world to see. However, for many, the person they may celebrate Valentine’s Day with is also the person who is hurting them. February is designated as Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Dating abuse is very real but many who are experiencing this violence do not disclose their pain. Just like sexual assault and domestic violence, we need to talk about it.
Many of us have teens and young adults in our lives that are dating and we may think that dating violence will never affect them or if it did, we would see it and intervene. Studies show that any young person can experience dating abuse or unhealthy relationship behaviors, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, economic status, ethnicity, religion or culture. It does not discriminate and can happen to anyone in any relationship.
What are some warning signs that your loved one may be in an abusive dating relationship? Dating violence looks much like domestic violence. Breakthecycle.org lists the following warning signs:
•Physical abuse: Any intentional use of physical force with the intent to cause fear or injury, like hitting, shoving, biting, strangling, kicking or using a weapon.
•Verbal or emotional abuse: Non-physical behaviors such as threats, insults, constant monitoring, humiliation, intimidation, isolation or stalking.
•Sexual abuse: Any action that impacts a person’s ability to control their sexual activity or the circumstances in which sexual activity occurs, including rape, coercion or restricting access to birth control.
•Digital abuse: Use of technologies and/or social media networking to intimidate, harass or threaten a current or ex-dating partner such as demanding passwords, checking cell phones, cyber bullying, non-consensual sexting, excessive or threatening texts or stalking on social media.
•Stalking: Being repeatedly watched, followed, monitored or harassed. Stalking can occur online or in person, and may or may not include giving unwanted gifts.
That’s a great list, but how do these warning signs show up in everyday dating life?  Sometimes we don’t realize what we are seeing so here are some examples to help us better understand:
•Your daughter, Kay, has been close friends with John since kindergarten. Kay has been dating Mike for about 3 months. Mike told Kay he didn’t like her talking to John anymore. At the ballgame, Kay ran into John and chatting with him, she laughed at one of his jokes. Mike pulled Kay against his side and he squeezed her –hard - and said he was ready to go. When Kay pulled away and told Mike that he was hurting her, he scowled and replied that maybe she should have listened to him earlier. (Physical abuse)
•Michelle is really into fitness, but her boyfriend, Joe, isn’t really into it. Every time Michelle and Joe have dinner, she criticizes what he is eating and says hurtful things about his weight.  She says things such as, “Why are you so lazy?” “Why do you have to be such a slob?” And “You are lucky to have a hot girl like me.” (Emotional abuse)
•Brittany and Caleb have been dating for a month. Brittany does not want a sexual relationship. Caleb pressures her constantly saying things such as “If you loved me, you would.” “If you don’t I will find someone who will.” And “It’s my right since we are dating.”  (Sexual coercion/abuse)
•Ray broke up with Allison after dating for a few months. Allison did not take the break up well and is now frequently posting embarrassing photos and stories about Ray on her Facebook page. (Digital abuse)
•Ashley and Bobby dated briefly but Ashely decided she did not want to be in a relationship so she told Bobby they should take a break and see other people.  Bobby shows up at Ashely’s locker between classes insisting they should be together. He started hanging out at the fast food restaurant she works at on the days she works, trying to talk to her and even lurks around the gym watching her during basketball practices. She has asked him to leave her alone but he continues his behaviors. (Stalking)
Rarely does a relationship start out by being abusive. Normally, there is pursuit and wooing in the beginning. Every relationship is different and abuse can happen on the first date; however, dating abuse typically grows over a period of time. It is a pattern of abusive behaviors that are meant to exert power and control over a partner. Angry, demeaning words and violent actions are used as tools by an abuser to gain control over the other person. You do not have to stay in an abusive relationship. If you have experienced intimate partner violence or if you have experienced sexual assault, we can help. Crisis Services of North Alabama Jackson County office offers free services to victims in Jackson County. Call 256.574.5826 for an appointment with an advocate today. We also offer our HELPline at 256.716.1000 where you can talk with someone 24-hours a day.

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