February is teen dating violence awareness month

People often think of domestic violence as an adult problem, but teens and young adults actually experience the highest rates of dating abuse; almost triple the national average.

During the month of February, organizations, municipalities, and schools across the country are raising awareness for teen dating violence. It’s an issue that about 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience each year.

“Teen dating violence happens with young people that are in their first romantic relationships and they’re easily caught in this cycle of power and control just because of limited experience and lack of awareness around red flags,” Abby Hansen, Director of Counseling and Advocacy Services at SafeHouse Denver, said.

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According to SafeHouse Denver, girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence. In Colorado between 2009 and 2014, 18 to 24 year olds had the highest rate of domestic violence related criminal filings than any other age group.

“They don’t get a lot of that education in schools, and most parents think that teen dating violence actually isn’t an issue so they aren’t proactive about talking with their teens around these issues,” Hansen said. “So these teens are left to kind of fend for themselves and figure things out on their own, which leads to more secrecy, isolation and lack of resources and support.”

Hansen identified some red flags that parents and teachers should look out for in teens in relationships:

  • Withdrawing from activities in which they were once invested
  • Isolation from friends or family
  • Using language that implies an element of control such as, “I need to check in with my boyfriend/girlfriend,” or “I need to ask my boyfriend/girlfriend about that first”

According to Hansen, people who are abused in their teen and young adult years are more at risk of being victimized in the future. Also, domestic violence relationships that start in the teen years tend to intensify into more severe physically violent relationships, increasing the safety risks.

SafeHouse Denver is just one of the organizations trying to create a conversation about teen dating violence, in an effort to break the pattern of abuse at a young age.

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“People tend to put blinders on and I just encourage people to open up and even just frame conversations around talking to kids about what is a healthy relationship,” she said. “That automatically plants some messages in kids around what to expect and then what not to expect, what is wrong, unsafe, and unhealthy.”

More information about teen dating violence and resources:

The National Domestic Violence Hotline

SafeHouse Denver

National Resource Center on Domestic Violence

Break the Cycle

#TDVAM on Twitter