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Dating Violence Facts and FAQs

Did you know...

In a 2006 study, 25% of teens said their partner told them that they should "only spend time with him/her."
Studies show that somewhere between 20% and 45% of high school students have experienced teen dating violence.
23% of girls report doing more sexually than they wanted to do because they were pressured.

What is teen dating violence?
Teen dating violence (sometimes called DV, which can also stand for domestic violence) is something that can happen between two teens who are in a relationship or romantically involved. Teen dating violence can be defined as:

A pattern of behaviors used to gain and maintain power and control over an intimate partner. 

What kind of behaviors are abusive? Is it only abuse when someone hits or leaves a mark?
There are lots of different kinds of abuse. Sometimes abusive people are only abusive in one way and others use many different types of abuse. Some of the common types of abuse are:

Emotional/verbal/mental abuse — this is when someone calls their partner names, insults them, puts them down, threatens to stop loving them, threatens to spread lies about them, or does other things to make them feel like they don't deserve anything better. The goal of this type of abuse is to have power and control over someone’s sense of self worth or self esteem. Examples:

Angela tells Christy that if she breaks up with her, she will tell everyone at school her embarrassing secrets.
Amy often tells Mario that he's stupid and ugly. She says he's lucky he's got her because no one else would want to be with him.
Joe tells Brandy, "You shouldn't spend so much on clothes, you don't look good anyway”.

Physical — this can look like hitting, kicking, slapping, punching, pinching, pushing or physical intimidation (like not letting them leave the room). The goal of this type of abuse is to control how someone feels about their physical safety in their relationship. Examples:

Jesse stands in front of the door when he and Keesha have a fight, making it so that she can't leave. He won't move when she asks him to and says she should "try to make him."
Christine slaps Jason when she seems him talking to his friend Clarissa. She shoves him toward the car and says he should know better.
Andrew sometimes hits Jaquin when they have a fight, saying that Jaquin should know better than to make him angry.

Sexual — this is any time someone emotionally or physically pressures their partner to do something sexual that they don't want to do. The goal of this type of abuse is to control someone’s ability to make consensual decisions about their sexuality. Examples: 

Trell and Angie are making out. When Trell tries to take off her clothes, Angie moves his hands away and shakes her head. A few minutes later, Trell tries again, pushing her hands away when she tries to stop him and does it anyway.
Max tells Jamie that he really wants to have a baby and demands that they have sex without a condom even though Jamie says she doesn't want to.
Rayna demands sex from Sasha even though Sasha says she's not ready.

Social — This is when someone tells their partner who they can and can’t hang out with, spreads rumors about them, or prevents them from doing things they want to do. The goal of this type of abuse is to control someone’s social network or how they are perceived by others. Examples:

Jordan tells Beth that if she really loved him, she'd cancel her plans with her friends to watch him play football.
Roxanne tells Samantha that if she tells anyone that she hit her, she will tell her parents she’s a lesbian.
Ben tells Josie that her friends are interfering in their relationship and she shouldn’t hang out with them anymore.

Financial — This can look like forcing someone to not work or get an education, starting an argument right before someone has to leave for work so they are late, or taking someone’s paycheck every month. The goal of this type of abuse is to control someone’s access to resources or financial independence. Examples:

Ashley worries she may get fired from work because her partner is constantly showing up and causing a scene.
Jeff regularly pressures and guilt-trips Christine to stay home from school so they can spend more time together.
Maria tells Carla that she needs to give her paycheck to her because Carla's not responsible enough.

Technological — This can look like calling or texting their partner constantly, looking through their partner’s phone, or demanding email or Facebook passwords. The goal of this type of abuse is to control someone’s access to technology. Examples:

Jack tells Dana that if she had nothing to hide, she would let him look through her text messages.
Jonathan pressured Rosy to give him her Facebook password by telling her that couples are supposed to share everything.
Tami constantly feels anxious when she is out with her friends because she knows that if she doesn’t respond to her partner’s texts or calls right away he will be really angry.

Those are the most common types of abuse, but there are definitely others. Remember our definition—abuse is a pattern of behaviors where one person is trying to have power and control over another. If any of these are present in your relationship or if you feel like your partner's trying to control you in another way, it's important to talk to someone and get help—you deserve to control your own life!

Can someone be abusive but not all the time?
Absolutely. It's important to note that abusers are not always abusive. In fact, making sure that there are good times, too, is part of their strategy to keep their partners from leaving. Check out the illustration below—what we call the "Cycle of abuse."

Let's start at the abuse. In this picture, it's called the "explosion." Remember that this can be emotional, physical, sexual or any other type of abuse. 

After the abuse, there's what's called the "honeymoon" period. This phase often involves lots of "I'm sorrys," flowers, and promises to change. This phase might also involve rationalizing the abuse by blaming the survivor, saying things like "If you hadn't made me so angry, I wouldn't have had to hit you." Keep in mind that the sweet part of this phase is often very public. Why do you think that might be? Yep, you guessed it—if friends and family see only flowers and sweetness, they might be less likely to believe the abuse is really happening. 

The next phase is the tension-building stage. Survivors often say that they feel like they're "walking on eggshells." The abuser is thinking about what it was like to exercise the type of power and control he had in the "explosion" phase and wants to feel that powerful again. The important thing to remember about this phase is that the abuser actively looks for any excuse to be abusive. This means that the abuse is never about the "trigger" that the abuser blames it on. An abusive partner might say that the abuse was about you being home later than you said, talking to someone else, or not doing something well enough but, in reality, the incident right before the abuse was only an excuse for the abuser to abuse. 

These phases are different amounts of time in every relationship, but there is a pattern: the honeymoon phase tends to get shorter over time. The first time abuse occurs, it might be weeks or months before abuse occurs again. However, it is a cycle. Without serious work by the abuser dedicated to changing his or her behaviors, the abuse will happen again. 

Why don't they just leave?
No one wants to see someone they love get hurt, and it can be really hard to understand what makes it difficult for someone to leave an abusive relationship. It's important to keep in mind, though, that people who are abusive purposefully do things to make it hard for someone to leave. Sometimes, instead of asking "Why doesn't s/he just leave?" it can be helpful to ask "What is his/her partner doing that makes it difficult for him/her to leave?" 

Abusive partners often make it emotionally harder for someone to leave by breaking down their self-esteem. This can look like isolating them from friends or family, telling them they're stupid or worthless and they're never going to find any better, or promising to change to try and get them to stay. Abusive partners also sometimes threaten their partner's safety, either hurting them when they leave or threatening to hurt them (or children, pets, etc) if they ever do try to leave. They might say things like "You know I'll always find you" that make the abused partner feel like there's no point in trying to get away. Financially, abusive people often make sure that they control the money to make it difficult for the abused partner to escape. 

There are countless other ways that abusive people make it difficult for their partners to leave. No one "likes" to be abused or "asks for it" by staying. If someone in your life is experiencing abuse, try to understand the things that make it difficult for them to leave and, if they are open to it, help them brainstorm ways to overcome the barriers.