Guest post by: Emily Eisele, Prevention Education Specialist, HAVEN
Gender-based violence is present in every demographic of race, income bracket, sexual orientation, community, and age. Teen dating relationships are no exception. Intimidation, harassment and stalking are happening in middle schools and high schools in our communities. An open discussion about intimate partner violence, digital tools of abuse and ways to help is badly needed. But first, let’s define teen dating violence: it is the use of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal force by one dating partner towards another dating partner to maintain power and control. Abuse can cause injury and even death but it doesn’t have to be physical.
Let’s stop there a moment and reiterate: Doesn’t. Have. To be physical.
While sexual and physical violence is certainly occurring in teen relationships—an American Medical Journal publication stated that 1 in 5 high school girls reported being assaulted at some point in their relationships—verbal abuse and digital harassment is more difficult to identify and address. Many tactics of abuse are well hidden by the abuser, and often are not technically illegal. Importantly, verbal and emotional abuse is just as devastating—if not more so—than physical. Survivors tell us at HAVEN that the scars of emotional abuse last for years, long after the relationship has ended. It is often minimized, and is certainly underreported.
This issue is further complicated by the digital world young people are now immersed in. A 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that young people between the age of 8 to 18 are consuming media—social networking, phone surfing, texting, watching TV—7.5 hours per day on average. See how this compares to adult consumption here. How is this technological immersion and the public sharing of social media changing dating relationships for teens? How can we recognize when teens close to us may be in an abusive relationship, and how can we help?
As we increasingly have our heads in the Cloud, there is a serious need to address digital safety and personal boundaries for young people growing up in this culture.
In a recent Associated Press poll, 56% percent of young respondents reported experiences of abuse online or through social media. While the level of public exposure of our lives rises, and becomes more acceptable, new platforms for verbal abuse or public humiliation—both abuse tactics for maintaining power and control—open up. Access to media on mobile devices and increasing anonymity also allows for concerted efforts to bully and abuse within dating relationships. Abusive teens may ask their friends to harass their partner on social media, or through constant texting or calling. Even more frightening, teens run the risk of being stalked or harassed constantly outside of school, or even after they move away. Other forms of digital abuse include, but are not limited to:
- threatening texts
- demeaning or embarrassing posts on facebook
- pressure to send sexual photos
- checking the victim’s email or social media accounts
- punishing partner for not responding to texts quickly enough
- creating a profile to harass or check up on partner
- using media or phones to keep tabs on a partner.
The normalization of constant digital connection may obscure the reality that teens in our lives do not have strong boundaries in their relationships, and that they may be experiencing abuse. How do we recognize, and help teens recognize, when checking social media or connecting through a phone crosses the line into a controlling relationship? When someone is asking “where r u”, too often?
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. If you are being abused or think your teen is in an abusive relationship, HAVEN is here to help. Call our 24-hour Crisis and Support Line at 877-922-1274.
Stay tuned for Part 2, where we will address identifying teen dating violence, and what to do about it.