"We were sitting in the car at the park. The sun was shining, school had just ended. We were 17, my boyfriend, his friend and I. We were drinking, laughing, listening to music. It was a great day. In the blink of an eye his hand was clamped around my throat, squeezing. My vision went dark, I didn't know when it was. I was shocked, scared, unable to breathe. It was the 1st of many bad days"
"I never told anyone and neither did his friend. I thought he must really love me if he was that jealous"
My abusive relationship started in my teens and continued until I left 25 years later. When I look back now I see all the warning signs and convoluted thoughts and rationalizations wonder why I didn't leave sooner. I was no different then millions of other teens then or now; I thought I had it all under control and that it wouldn't happen to me.
In my last article I discussed statistics about abuse in teen relationships. In this article I would like to address some of the issues that are unique to teenagers. Nearly half of the teens in the United States report experiencing some type of abuse in their dating relationships including being controlled, pressured into doing things they didn't want to and being threatened by their partner. Approximately one in five female high school students reports being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner and date rape accounts for almost 70% of sexual assaults reported by adolescent and college age women(38% of those women are between 14 and 17 years old(DVRC)). Nearly 80% of girls who have been physically abused by their boyfriend remain in that relationship.
Romantic Views of Love
Teenagers may not know what a healthy relationship is. They tend to have romantic views of love that are usually unrealistic and in some cases can be dangerous. Early on in a relationship certain behaviors such as numerous phone calls and texts, declarations of undying love and the "need" to spend every minute together can be mistaken for love and devotion. However when in an abusive relationship, the constant phone calls are a way of monitoring behavior, the declarations of undying love are verbal manipulation, and the "need" to spend every minute together is a way of isolating the victim. Jealousy is another emotion that is often misinterpreted as love. In reality jealousy stems from insecurity, fear, and anxiety over an anticipated loss of something. It can also stem from a perceived ownership of another person. This notion is reinforced with common statements such as "my boyfriend" or "my girlfriend".
It is a recognized fact that abuse tends to run in families and is passed from one generation to the next. Many times children who either witness or experience violence and abuse grow up believing that those are normal and acceptable behaviors. If a young boy witnesses his father being controlling, domineering and violent he will be more likely to engage in these same behaviors in his own relationships and if a young girl grows up watching her mother be demeaned, threatened and abused, she will likely be more accepting of others treating her the same way.
There is a lot of pressure on teens to be involved in a relationship. Teens want to fit in with the popular crowd so they will often start dating when they are not emotionally or physically ready to. Teens who are all ready in an abusive relationship but are thinking about ending it may feel an increased pressure if their friends are all paired off. They will stay in order to avoid being the "third wheel" or the "odd one out". When teens go to their friends for help they may get advice such as "he only does it because he loves you" or "She's just being a bitch, she'll get over it". Teens would prefer to remain in an abusive relationship than not be in one at all.
It is becoming more difficult for teens today to get a respite from their abuser due to the widespread use of cell phones and computers. Abusers are using these devices as a means to control, monitor, harass, intimidate and threaten their partner. Phone calls, text messaging and instant messenger are ways of keeping tabs on where the victim is and who he/she is with. Social networking sites provide a new venue for insulting, harassing, manipulating and threatening.
Independence From Parents
The teen years are when young adults are learning to be individuals and want to separate from their parents. There are several reasons why a teen may not talk to their parents if they find themselves in an abusive relationship. They may think their parents won't believe them or will minimize their experience. They may still be involved with the abusive partner and don’t want to be restricted by a parent to not see their partner. Or the abusive relationship may be over however the victim still doesn’t want the parents to know what happened due to feeling of guilt or shame. If the relationship is over there can be fear that their parents wouldn’t trust their judgment in the future, or that they would have to reveal lies they may have told their parents when they were still in the relationship.
Parents, teachers, counselers and employers need to be more educated about the behaviors associated with and the warning signs of teen abuse. Advice, information and resources can be found at Janedoe Inc , NCVC and Love is Respect