Nearly half of adult sex offenders report committing their first sexual offenses prior to the age of 18. -National Teen Dating Violence Prevention Initiative
Half of the reported date rapes occur among teenagers. -National Teen Dating Violence Prevention Initiative
57% of teens know someone who has been physically, sexually, or verbally abusive in a dating relationship. -National Teen Dating Violence Prevention Initiative
Liz hadn’t even sat down in the counselor’s office before she burst into tears. When she was able to speak Liz said, “I really liked my boyfriend at first. I thought he was so cool because he’s older, out of high school and stuff. Not too long after we started dating he told me he was going to pick me up after school. I thought that was cool. Then he insisted that he come and pick me up for lunch too. O.K., but now he won’t let me go to any games or anything. I’m not allowed to see my friends. I hate it!”
“Did you tell him you wanted to spend time with your high school friends?”
“Yeah. It made him really mad. He didn’t hit me or anything, but he yelled and told me to quit being immature.”
“What about your parents? Have you told them about the situation?”
“Sort of, but my parents really like him so they don’t understand.”
“Liz,” Mrs. Hendrickson said, “what do you want me to do to help you?”
Liz stood quickly. “Nothing. I guess I just wanted to talk. I’ll take care of it.” Liz bolted out the door. Mrs. Hendrickson made a mental note to keep an eye on Liz.
Within two days, Mrs. Hendrickson was passing through the hall after lunch. Outside the front doors she noticed Liz in a car out front with her boyfriend. Mrs. Hendrickson stopped to watch. Liz tried to move to the car door, but her boyfriend grabbed her arm and pulled her to him. Liz was crying and the boyfriend was yelling.
Mrs. Hendrickson saw enough. She ran to the principal’s office and told him what was going on. He grabbed the SRO and the three of them went to the car where Liz was being held captive.
The principal and the SRO went to the driver’s side to escort the boyfriend into the office. Mrs. Hendrickson opened the passenger door. “Liz, come with me.”
Liz was thankful for the help and the support she received. She ended the relationship with her boyfriend. Liz’s boyfriend agreed never to return to school property or speak to Liz again if there were no charges pressed against him. He kept his end of the bargain, and Liz returned to being the fun-loving student everyone knew.
February is national teen dating violence awareness and prevention month. Dating abuse is a form of bullying, and perhaps the most confusing form of harassment for adolescents. After all, they are being abused by the person who supposedly loves them.
- Don’t be the bystander. Doing nothing will only encourage the harasser.
- Encourage the victim to talk to a trusted adult even if it’s not you. If they don’t report and abuse persists or becomes severe, you have to take charge.
- What to say (open-ended questions):
- What does your ideal relationship look like? Is this relationship close to that ideal?
- Do you feel respected in your relationship? Why or why not?
- Does your boyfriend/girlfriend make you feel good about yourself?
- How are you going to get out of this relationship?
- Who can you count on for immediate help?
- Who are some adults you could go to if your boyfriend/girlfriend treats you badly?
- How can I help you?
- What to do:
- Model assertive relationships
- Rehearse the break-up with the teen
- Set age appropriate dating limits
- Create a safety plan that includes places, people and resources that make the victim feel safe
- Listen to the teen and guide (which is not giving advice) their decision making
- Assure the teen they don’t deserve to be abused and real love doesn’t involve abuse
- Encourage the teen to report or seek help from an adult they trust
- Report the abuse to the authorities if you feel the teen is in physical danger
You may have noticed what you say or do does not include making them break up with their abusive boyfriend/girlfriend. Trying to make teens do anything usually has the opposite effect. A more effective strategy is to allow them to come to their own conclusion that the relationship isn’t good for them. You can also let them know you are there for them and that you care first and foremost for their safety which may include reporting to protect them.