February is Teen Dating Violence Prevention Month. 1 in 3 U.S. teens will experience physical, sexual, or emotional abuse from someone they’re in a relationship with before they become adults. And nearly half (43%) of U.S. college women report experiencing violent or abusive dating behaviors.
According to the CDC, there are four types of intimate partner violence our teens experience in their relationships in person and online.
Physical Violence: A physically violent relationship is when a person hurts or tries to hurt a partner by hitting, kicking, or using another type of physical force.
Stalking: When a teen is stalked, they experience a pattern of repeated, unwanted attention and contact by a current or former partner that causes fear or safety concerns for an individual victim or someone close to the victim.
Sexual Violence: Many people only think of rape when they hear the term ‘sexual violence.’ Forcing another person to engage in a sexual act without their consent is just one kind of sexual violence.
Consent is to agree to do something, freely. True consent is given when the person understands the risks and benefits of the decision, and a person has full control of their faculties when giving their assent.
When consent is forced, it is no longer consent.
Rape is the ultimate example of acting upon another without consent. Sexual violence also includes non-physical sexual behaviors like posting or sharing sexual pictures of a partner without their consent or sexting someone without their consent.
Psychological aggression: This is the use of verbal and non-verbal communication with the intent to harm a partner mentally or emotionally and exert control over a partner. Coercion, manipulation, and pressure/bullying are behaviors that infringe on consent and can be considered a violation of consent when it comes to sexual activity.
Coercion is any activity that pressures or forces someone in a non-physical way to do something they have said they didn’t want to do. Using threats to spread rumors or end a relationship, or being in a position of power and using that influence. Even being the older partner creates an imbalance in the teen relationship as teens. The age difference creates a non-physical, often non-verbalized imbalance of power.
Manipulation is similar, but it is more about playing with the mind, and is more subtle than coercion. In coercion, the person realizes they are being forced but feels they have no other choice. In manipulation, the person might not recognize it as manipulation. Abusers could use guilt, play on the other person’s insecurities, or profess to be more committed than they are just to get what they want.
Pressure/Bullying is another form of violating a person’s agency. This is when someone says no, and the other person begs, nags, and in any other way persists and persuades until they receive the answer they want. This assent is not a “Yes.”
To illustrate the consequences of this issue, in a survey of pregnant teens, girls were asked what could be done to bring down the teen pregnancy rate. The overwhelming response was, “Teach us how to say no and not hurt our boyfriend’s feelings.”
“No” is a complete answer and should be respected in any situation. “Wearing them down” until they agree is actually a form of psychological abuse.
These may not seem as “violent” as rape or physical assault, but psychological aggression is as damaging and scarring to the victims. These abuse tactics violate a person’s boundaries, their decision-making power, and reduce the human being to just a means to an end for the abuser. Victims feel dehumanized, taken advantage of, and used.
The impact of experiencing teen dating violence can be lifelong, not limited to the risk for STIs or unplanned pregnancy. Youth who are victims of teen dating violence are more likely to:
- experience depression and anxiety symptoms
- engage in unhealthy behaviors, like using tobacco, drugs, and alcohol
- exhibit antisocial behaviors, like lying, theft, bullying, or hitting
- think about suicide
Violence in an adolescent relationship sets the stage for future relationship problems, including intimate partner violence and sexual violence perpetration and/or victimization throughout life.
Connect Medical includes healthy relationship assessments and education in their medical appointments with individuals of all ages, but especially teens. If you feel like you have signs of an unhealthy or violent relationship, call the Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233