February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, which always makes me sad. When I think of teens, I conjure up positive images of school, college applications, music and fashion, earning a driver’s license, crazy fun with friends, mood swings, that first crush, and steady growth into independence and adulthood - NOT violence and fear. However, for many teens, dating violence is a terrifying reality.
The statistics are staggering. According to Love Is Respect, the National Teen Dating Violence Helpline, 1.5 million high school students experience physical abuse from a dating partner every year. One in three adolescents in the U. S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner. Use of technology to coerce, stalk, and blackmail teen partners is increasingly common in abusive teen relationships. Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rates of intimate partner violence – almost triple the national average. Victims of teen dating violence are at higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior, pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, additional domestic violence, and suicide, compared to girls and boys who are not abused. Tragically, most teens who experience intimate partner violence never tell anyone – only 33% tell a family member or friend. Parents and friends might see warning signs of abuse, but often feel helpless to protect the teen.
The good news is that Dove Domestic Violence Program offers help and hope to teen dating violence victims and their families. Dove provides prevention education in schools throughout DeWitt, Macon, Moultrie, Piatt, and Shelby counties, reaching teens with information on healthy relationships, teaching them the warning signs of an abuser, and informing them of their legal rights and of how to get help for themselves or a friend. Dove provides crisis intervention for teens in abusive relationships, including assistance with orders of protection. (In Illinois, an adult may seek an order of protection on behalf of a minor under the age of 18. In most teen dating violence cases, parents or guardians seek the OP on behalf of their teen.) Individual and family counseling is available to help teens and their parents do safety planning and cope with the danger, emotional trauma, and family disruption that occurs during and after an abusive relationship. Dove’s hotline is the best way to access or inquire about services – 217-423-2238. The hotline and all other Dove services are completely confidential.
There are simple things we all can do to address teen dating violence:
- If you are a parent, model a loving and respectful relationship at home – your children and teens are watching and learning from you. Talk to your teens about important issues and let them know that you are always there when they need to talk. If your teen comes to you with relationship concerns, take them seriously – abusive teen relationships can be dangerous. If your daughter or son is being abused, believe her/him, know that this is not your teen’s fault, and seek help - contact Dove’s hotline (217-423-2238). Dove staff can discuss options with you and assist with orders of protection, counseling, and other services. (If the situation is an emergency, call 911 first and contact Dove for follow-up assistance.)
- If you are a teen whose partner is abusive, TELL SOMEONE! Make sure your friends know what is happening, but more importantly, tell a trusted adult, like Mom or Dad, a counselor or favorite teacher at school – someone who can seek help for you. You deserve to be treated with respect – an abusive relationship is not your fault and is never acceptable!
- If you are a concerned friend or relative, talk to the teen. Although your offer of help may be rejected at first, you have planted a seed of information and hope; the teen may reach out to you later for help.
- If you want to know more about teen dating violence or to schedule prevention education for a class or youth organization, call Dove’s hotline (217-423-2238).
Teen dating violence is something that no teen should experience. However, Dove’s prevention education and crisis intervention services ensure that information, help, hope, and healing are available for all teens.
Youth and Family Services Coordinator
Dove Domestic Violence Program
Want to know more about teen dating violence?
Here are some great resources!