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Teen Dating Violence: The Need for a Safety Plan

Unfortunately, teen-dating violence is more prevalent in our society than most people realize. According to the Domestic Violence Advocacy Program of Family Resources, Inc. (www.acadv.org/dating.html), about one in three high school students have been or will be involved in an abusive relationship. Forty percent of teenage girls from the ages of 14 to 17 say they know someone their age that has been hit or beaten by a boyfriend. Though teens try to hide the fact that they are being abused, their parents, siblings, teachers and friends often notice signs that are indicative of dating abuse. For example, a change in personality, failing grades, use of drugs or alcohol, pregnancy, emotional outburst, moodiness, or isolation are signs that the teenager is in distress and needs help. A trained counselor, therapist or professional who specializes in working with adolescents would be able to offer guidance and help change the direction the teenage is headed. Teenagers should be aware of how to keep themselves safe from harm and know the warning signs of an abusive partner.

Why would 14 to 17 year olds hide the fact that a boyfriend or girlfriend is abusing them? First, teenagers are inexperienced with dating relationships and find it difficult to confront the abuser. Secondly, teenagers who have low self-esteem and fear being rejected and alone will often tolerate negative behavior so as not to alienate or end the relationship. Low self-image influences how one views others and what one is willing to put up with by a date. Thirdly, teens often fear being rejected by their peers, want to be independent from their parents, deny that the abuse will happen again and therefore, suppress their feelings of hurt, betrayal, and fear. Many kids don't know who to tell, what to do, how to stop the abuse, or how to get out of a controlling and abusive relationship. Some young women believe that their boyfriend's jealousy, possessiveness and even physical abuse, is "romantic".

Teenagers need to recognize Early Warning Signs that your date may eventually become abusive. Some of the signs include:

	Extreme jealousy
	Controlling behavior
	Quick involvement
	Unpredictable mood swings
	Alcohol and drug use
	Explosive anger
	Isolates you from friends and family
	Verbally abusive
	Threatens violence

Teenagers need to think through Dating Safety. For example:

  • Double date the few first times you go out with a person.
  • Before leaving on a date give parents the exact details of the date.
  • Let your date know you are expected to call home.
  • If you leave a party with someone you don't know well, tell a friend; ask him/her to call and make sure that you arrived home safely.
  • Trust your instincts. If a situation makes you uncomfortable, try to be calm and figure out a way to remove yourself from the situation.

Teenagers should think ahead of potentially dangerous situations and have an Individualized Safety Plan. Some things to consider in designing your plan are:

  • Who could you tell about the violence and abuse? Which adults? Who would keep you safe at school? Teachers, principal, counselors, security?
  • Consider changing your locker and/or lock.
  • Use a buddy system for going to school, walking to classes, and after school, walking to classes, and after school activities.
  • If stranded, whom could you call?
  • Which friends would help you be safe?
  • Get rid of or change the cell phone numbers you gave the abuser or the abuser gave you.
  • Where could you go quickly to get away from the abusive person?
  • Keep spare change and your emergency numbers with you as well as a copy of the restraining order if you have one.

In the training seminar on Dating Violence and Sexual Assault in Teen Relationships sponsored by Summit county Children Services and Akron Children's Hospital, a bookmark titled Respect: The Teen Dating Bill of Rights was handed out to all the participants. It reminds teens that they have the right to:

	Not be abused
	Live without fear
	Say no to sex
	Set your own limits
	Change your mind
	Choose your own friends
	Refuse a date
	End a relationship
	Your opinion
	Be respected
	Spend time alone
	Be heard
	Set goals for yourself
	Ask for help

Everyone has a right to ask for a date and refuse a date. All of us have a right to refuse to lend money and to refuse sex any time and for any reason. We all have a right to have friends and space aside from our partner. Sometimes relationships become mostly emotional and only slightly rational. If you or someone you love is struggling with violence in a relationship, please seek help. Take action. Sometimes just talking through a situation with an objective party can help with the decision to stop the abuse.

Janet E. Dix, Ph.D.

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