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Teen dating violence: How to recognize abuse and know when to help

August 19, 2018 GMT

Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series of articles about teen dating violence in Utah.

About 81 percent of parents who were surveyed either believe that teen dating violence is not an issue or they admit that they do not know if it is an issue, according to data gathered by Utah Domestic Violence Coalition.

However, an anonymous survey called the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System given to high school students in Utah in 2013 showed that 27.9 percent of teens in dating relationships had experienced teen dating violence. So how can parents know if and when this is happening to their teens?

According to Whitney Leavitt, prevention education specialist for the Center for Women and Children in Crisis, or CWCIC, in Orem, there are definite signs that could signal a problem with dating violence in teens.

“A huge sign is if the person is really possessive with the partner’s time, isolating them from friends and family, if the partner gets upset when the other wants to hang out with their family,” she said. “If the partner is checking up constantly, monitoring phone, constant texts, wanting to know everything they’re doing.”

Suddenly not talking to close friends is another important sign to watch for, Leavitt said. Other signs include excessive jealousy, controlling behavior, making rules for the partner, not allowing friends of the opposite sex, getting involved and serious very quickly, spending a lot of time together, one partner threatening to hurt him or herself if they break up.

“A huge sign that the relationship is unsafe is any threats of self-harm or threatening suicide,” Leavitt said.

If a teenager begins doing things that are uncharacteristic, the partner may be threatening or pressuring him or her to do things out of the norm such as skipping class, getting bad grades and using drugs or alcohol.

Leavitt also said that teens should be careful if their friends and family don’t like the person who they are dating. “They can usually see something that you can’t,” she said.

While education about teen dating violence is limited, there is some out there. For example, the Utah Department of Health has made “Healthy Relationships” curriculum available to schools and some, but not all use it. The curriculum teaches what a healthy dating relationship should look like.

CWCIC also provides an education program about healthy relationships and teen dating violence. It is taught at middle, junior and high schools and through various community organizations.

“We reach out to all of the schools and they decide if they want it,” Leavitt said. “We get a lot of good feedback and a lot of people asking us to come in.”

The effects of teen dating violence can be far-reaching. According to Utah Department of Health, “Dating violence can have a negative effect on health throughout life. Teens who experience dating violence are more likely to be depressed and do poorly in school. They may engage in unhealthy behaviors, like using drugs and alcohol, and are more likely to have eating disorders. Some teens even think about or attempt suicide. Teens who experience dating violence in high school are at higher risk of victimization during college.”

“If there is sexual abuse, there is the emotional component as well and the issue of power,” said Leavitt. At the CWCIC, teen victims, with the consent of parents, can get help through educational groups, crisis counseling and therapy.

While teens may be hesitant to alert a parent or police officer about the violence inflicted by a boyfriend or girlfriend, they can get help and support anonymously. A great resource for teens is the website http://.loveisrespect.org, according to Leavitt. “They can talk about what they are experiencing, get information and get help,” she said.

Other anonymous helps include the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE, the National Dating Abuse Helpline at (866) 331-9474 and the Sexual Assault 24-hour Hotline at (888) 421-1100.