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You’ve finally achieved that coveted title: “bae.” When it happens, you’re beyond excited that your crush wants to be in a relationship with you.

But wait. It’s not quite what you expected. Your partner sometimes has a scary temper. She can be really controlling. She often hits, pushes, or scratches you during arguments. He embarrasses you in public, and likes to call you names or forces you to do things you don’t feel comfortable with.

Sound familiar? If so, you may be in an abusive relationship.

Dating or relationship abuse happens when one person exerts power and control over the other. Abuse can be verbal, emotional, digital, physical, financial, sexual, and can include stalking. Abuse is more common than you may realize.

“I was in a relationship where my boyfriend would constantly ask what I was doing, who I was with, and why I always hung out with certain people. He would guilt me into thinking I didn’t like him because I wouldn’t hang out with him all the time. It took a presentation in one of my high school classes to realize I was in an unhealthy relationship. I quickly ended [it] because I knew things wouldn’t change.”  —Farah*, Edmonton, Canada

Teen dating violence facts:

It can happen to anyone, and the abuser could be your current partner, your ex, a friend, or an acquaintance.

Twenty-three percent of females and 14 percent of males who experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by a partner first experienced some form of partner violence between ages 11–17, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Just remember, if you are in an abusive relationship, you’re not alone, it’s not your fault, and there is a way out.

Explore each scenario below to find out which ones constitute abuse and which are normal relationship speed bumps.

Constant put-downs

Your boyfriend does better than you in school. When out with friends, he points out how much smarter than you he is, corrects your speech, and insults your intelligence. When you try to dump him, he mocks you, hurls insults at you, and tells you that no one else would ever want to date you.

Is this abuse?

Relationships are supposed to make you feel good. If your significant other makes a point of lowering your self-esteem, manipulating you, or making you look bad in public, you may be in an emotionally abusive relationship.

It’s important to realize that no one deserves this kind of treatment, and it’s not a problem that can be fixed by trying to change yourself into who they want you to be.

Warning signs

  • Common warning signs of emotional and verbal abuse include:
  • Constant criticism
  • Verbal threats
  • Preventing you from talking to friends or family
  • Telling you what to do or wear
  • Threatening to harm themselves if you leave
  • Making you feel guilty for refusing to do sexual acts

Violence vs. humiliation

Whenever you get into an argument with your girlfriend, she starts hitting and scratching you. You’re unsure how to defend yourself, and too embarrassed to tell your friends.

Is this abuse?

Physical abuse doesn’t have to leave bruises. Any intentional and unwanted contact with your body can count. Whether it happens once or 10 times, physical abuse is unhealthy and usually gets worse. While it may seem embarrassing to admit to others and yourself that your partner is harming you, know that you are not alone, and it’s not your fault.

More than 1 in 10 high school students have already experienced some form of physical aggression from a dating partner, and many of these teens didn’t know what to do when it happened, according to the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey.

Warning signs

Some warning signs of physical abuse include:

  • Unwanted punching, slapping, scratching, biting, kicking, or pulling hair
  • Forcing sexual acts
  • Using physical force such as pinning you to the wall to prevent you from leaving, or forcing you to go somewhere
  • Throwing objects at you
  • Grabbing your face to make you look at them

What to do if it happens to you

The first moment you feel unsafe is the time to seek help. Physical abuse can take many forms, so it’s important to know the warning signs. Seek help from a trusted adult such as a relative or school counselor. A supportive friend or family member can help you seek legal protection, such as a restraining order, and also help you develop a safe exit plan should you need to get away in a dangerous situation. Physical abuse should never be seen as a normal part of your relationship.

“Everybody has the right to be in a relationship free of violence. If you feel unsafe, you should know that there are caring adults out there who can help you leave the relationship in a safe way,”? says Casey Corcoran, program director of the Children and Youth Program at Futures Without Violence in Boston, Massachusetts and San Francisco, California.

An occasional hiccup

You and your partner get along well, but every once in a while you have an argument. You both yell, and maybe even throw in an insult or two. It really makes you angry when you argue, but within an hour or so it all blows over and you’re back to happily eating pizza and watching Netflix.

Is this abuse?

While it is unhealthy for your partner and you to insult each other, this does not necessarily signal abuse. We all say hurtful things occasionally. Heated debate can even be healthy at times. But if the fighting becomes aggressive, involves physical harm, manipulation, or attempts to lower the other’s self-esteem, it can count as abuse.

The unwelcome shadow

You broke up with a girl you dated for three months. Since the breakup, you notice that she comments on just about every picture and tweet you post, and the comments are getting creepy. The following week she waits for you outside every class, turns up at your job, and at the gym you work out at.

Is this abuse?

If someone is repeatedly following, watching, or harassing you to the point where you fear for your safety, you are being stalked. A stalker can be a stranger or someone you know, such as an ex. In fact, three in four victims are stalked by people they know. Youth aged 18–19 experience the highest rates of stalking in the United States. This can be both traumatic and dangerous, so it’s important to let those you trust know what’s happening, and create a safety plan.

Warning signs

Stalking can take many forms, including:

  • Showing up at places you often go to
  • Sending you unwanted messages though phone, mail, email, or social media
  • Using social media to constantly find out your location
  • Harassing or contacting those close to you
  • Using others to get details about your life

What to do if it happens to you

Loveisrespect.org has these tips for what to do if you’re being stalked:

  • If you feel like you’re in immediate danger, call 911. There are protection laws that may help you, such as a restraining order to prevent the stalker from coming near you.
  • Save evidence of contact with your stalker, such as emails, texts, letters, social media posts, and unwanted gifts. You can also write down the times, dates, and places where the stalking occurred to use in a police report.
  • Talk to someone you trust about what’s happening and develop a safety plan for a quick getaway.

Your body, their rules

You and your partner recently decided to become physically intimate. You try to insist that your partner use protection, but he complains that he “can’t feel anything” when he does. Whenever you bring the issue up, he makes you feel guilty and forces you to do it without protection.

Is this abuse?

Out of the 74 percent of high school students who reported dating or going out with someone in the past 12 months, 14 percent of the females and 6 percent of the males reported being forced to have sexual contact with the person they were dating, according to the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey.

You should never feel or be made to feel like you don’t have the option to refuse sexual activities, or to protect yourself against pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections.

Warning signs

Examples of sexual abuse and assault include:

  • Unwanted kissing and/or touching
  • Rough or violent sexual activity
  • Rape or attempted rape
  • Refusing to use or not allowing you to use condoms, birth control, or other contraceptives
  • Using threats to force unwanted sexual acts
  • Repeatedly using sexual insults

Facts about sexual abuse and assault

  • Not all sexual assaults are violent attacks: You have the right to refuse any sexual act.
  • Sexual abuse can happen between people who have willingly been sexually intimate together in the past. You have the right to say no in every situation, regardless of history.
  • Most sexual assault victims know their abuser.
  • Sexual abuse can take on far more forms than what is shown on TV and in the media. It can happen to or be done by both men and women, in same-sex and opposite-sex relationships.
  • One in 10 high school students reported being forced to have some form of sexual contact by someone they were dating, according to the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey.

What to do if it happens to you

  • Contact someone you trust for support, such as an adult relative or school counselor.
  • Talk to someone anonymously by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE.
  • If you decide to report what happened to the police, it’s important that you don’t destroy any evidence by showering, changing clothes, or altering your appearance. This process can be emotionally difficult, so it’s important to have someone you trust support you, if possible.
  • Go to an emergency room or health clinic. It’s extremely important to seek health care as soon as possible after you have been assaulted. You will most likely be treated for any potential results of the assault, such as injuries, pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections.

The unofficial coworker

You work at the coffee shop near your school. You get paid minimum wage and you’re using the money to save up for your first car. However, your girlfriend demands that you give her half of your paycheck and wants access to your bank account so she can see what you spend your money on. When you say no, she gets upset and tries to make you feel guilty.

Is this abuse?

This form of abuse is rarely talked about. Financial abuse in a relationship involves your partner using or controlling how you use your money.

Warning signs

Financial abuse can look like your partner…

  • Giving you an allowance or closely watching what you buy
  • Putting your paycheck in their account and not letting you use your own money
  • Trying to control your work schedule
  • Getting you fired by harassing you or others at your work
  • Giving you presents or paying for things and forcing you to do the same
  • Using their power to control you because you have less money than them

What to do if it happens to you

Financial abuse often happens alongside physical or emotional abuse. If you feel like you’re experiencing financial abuse, it’s important to talk to someone you trust, such as your parent or a school counselor, who can help you plan an exit strategy to safely regain your independence.

Taking over your life

Your partner is really sweet but extremely possessive. Over the course of your relationship she starts to demand all of your time and tries to stop you from seeing your friends and family. Whenever you try to end the relationship, she threatens to hurt herself or you. However, she’s never hit you or physically hurt you in any way.

Is this abuse?

Though it leaves no visible scars, emotional and verbal abuse can hurt you on the inside. Continual criticism, put-downs, and threats can put you in a constant state of fear and worry, not to mention the negative impact it can have on your self-esteem. 

Don’t believe the hype

In these situations it’s important not to buy into the lies your partner may be telling you about your relationship and your self-worth. Talk to someone you trust about a safe
exit plan.

Provide support, not judgment

If you believe your friend or loved one is in an emotionally unhealthy relationship, it’s important to be supportive and give them a non-judgmental space to vent. Avoid trash-talking their partner, as this could lead them to turn against you in defense of their relationship or out of pride. If you feel that your friend is in danger, seek a trusted adult or school counselor for advice.

Safe Voices provides a free and anonymous 24-hour helpline.
Call 1-800-559-2927 to speak with an advocate who will listen, answer questions, and help with safety planning.

If you feel that you’re in immediate danger, call 911

The social media police

Your partner constantly scans your Twitter and Instagram accounts for signs that you’re cheating. Whenever you appear in a picture with a friend, or a guy comments on your tweet, your partner flips out and gives you the third degree. He demands that you give him the passwords to all your social media accounts and he wants access to your phone.

Is this abuse?

Digital abuse involves the use of technology such as phones and social networks to bully, control, harass, or intimidate a partner. While technology and social media can be great ways to keep in touch, setting boundaries is key.

“It’s important to set your digital boundaries with your partner early in the relationship. If they are not respecting your digital boundaries, that’s a sign that this could be an unhealthy relationship and that you should think about leaving it safely,” says ?Casey Corcoran, program director of the Children and Youth Program at Futures Without Violence in Boston, Massachusetts and San Francisco, California.

Warning signs

Signs of electronic/digital abuse include: 

  • Digitally sending you threatening or insulting messages
  • Using social media to keep tabs on you
  • Sending or pressuring you to send unwanted sexual pictures or videos
  • Looking through your pictures and text messages, demanding account passwords to do the same, or tagging you in unkind images

What to do if it happens to you

Loveisrespect.org gives these tips for avoiding digital dating abuse:

  • Don’t share your password with your partner. You have the right to not share passwords, and most social networks have adjustable privacy settings. Keep in mind that some apps require you to change these settings.
  • Don’t be afraid to disconnect from your phone and social media accounts whenever you feel like it. In a healthy relationship, your partner will respect your space.
  • Avoid sending any picture or text, sexually explicit or otherwise, that you wouldn’t be comfortable with others seeing. Once an image or text is sent, it’s out of your control and you can’t always predict your partner’s behavior.
  • Be careful of check-in functions on social networks. This can be dangerous for you and/or whomever you’re with if an abusive partner is involved.

The academic coach

You tend to struggle in school. Your partner gets on your case about raising your grades and working toward getting into college. It annoys you and makes you feel like a loser at times, but overall the encouragement makes you work harder toward being a better student.

Is this abuse?

While your partner should not make you feel bad about yourself or your abilities, there’s nothing wrong with a little encouragement. In a healthy relationship; both partners push each other toward their goals rather than tear each other down.

The bottom line

If your partner ever acts scary or violent, it will most likely happen again, even if they’ve promised you that it won’t. Remember that you don’t have any control over your partner’s behavior, and you are never to blame for how they act. If you ever feel unsafe, go to a place where other people are around and can see and hear what’s going on. Ask someone you trust to help you come up with an exit strategy to leave the relationship safely. “If something doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts,” says Laura*, from Boston, Massachusetts. 

*Name changed for privacy

“Red flags include jealousy & possessiveness. Listen to that little voice that gives you a twinge that something is not right. That voice should be taken seriously.”   —College sophomore, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Curious about how healthy your relationship is? Check out these simple quizzes.

Need a way out? Learn how to plan for a safe exit from an abusive relationship.

What happens when a minor reports physical or sexual abuse?

If you’re a minor (under 18) and you choose to tell someone about physical or sexual assault or abuse, most states require the person you told to report it to the police. If you’re worried about this, tell the person that you are concerned about privacy or that you need advice for a friend who is in a dangerous relationship.

You can also call the National Sexual Assault Hotline or visit their online hotline to talk to someone and ask about your reporting options. The hotline will not ask for your name or contact information, but if you are a minor and you choose to give them your name, they may be required to report the abuse. 

National Sexual Assault Online Hotline

National Sexual Assault Hotline
1-800-646-HOPE (4673)

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Article sources

Breakthecycle.org. (n.d.). A parent’s guide to teen dating violence: Ten questions to start the conversation. Retrieved from https://www.breakthecycle.org/sites/default/files/hanbook_-_parents_of_teen_0.pdf

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Dating matters initiative. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/DatingMatters/index.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014, June 13). Youth risk behavior surveillance – United States, 2013. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss6304a1.htm?s_cid=ss6304a1_w

Futures Without Violence (n.d.) Share these stats. Retrieved from https://www.futureswithoutviolence.org

Loveisrespect.org. (n.d.) Dating basics. Retrieved from
https://www.loveisrespect.org/dating-basics/dating-basics

Stayteen.org (n.d.) Stay informed: Dating abuse. Retrieved from https://stayteen.org/dating-abuse

Swahn M. H., Simon T. R., Arias I., & Bossarte R. M. (2008). Measuring sex differences in violence victimization and perpetration within date and same-sex peer relationships. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 23(8), 1120–1138.

The U.S. Department of Justice. (2011). Learn what to do in the event of sexual abuse: Help and support for victims. Retrieved from https://www.nsopw.gov/en-US/Education/HelpSupport?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1

Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence. (n.d.) Teen dating abuse safety plan. Retrieved from https://www.wcadv.org/sites/default/files/resources/Safety%20Plan%20for%20Teens.pdf