February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and at loveisrespect, we know how important it is to raise awareness about this issue. One in three young people in the U.S. is a victim of physical, emotional, verbal and/or sexual abuse from a dating partner, and the majority of them are girls between the ages of 16 and 24. Violent relationships in adolescence can have serious ramifications by putting the victims at higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior and further domestic violence.
Loveisrespect advocates work to help teens and young adults identify unhealthy or abusive behaviors and create a culture of healthy relationships. Not only do we provide support and advocacy to young people, but we also offer information and resources to parents, educators, counselors and other professionals. People often contact us for guidance on how to help someone — a child, a friend, a client — who may be in an unhealthy or abusive relationship. While every situation is different, we offer the following tips for helping someone else:
- Be supportive and listen patiently. Acknowledge their feelings and be respectful of their decisions. Stress that you’re on their side. Provide information and nonjudgmental support.
- Help them recognize that the abuse is not “normal” and is not their fault. Everyone deserves a healthy, nonviolent relationship.
- Believe them and take them seriously. They may be reluctant to share their experiences in fear of no one believing what they say. As you validate their feelings and show your support, they can become more comfortable and trust you with more information. Be careful not to minimize their situation due to age, inexperience or the length of their relationship.
- Focus on the person you’re supporting, not the abusive partner. Even if they stay with their partner, it’s important they still feel comfortable talking to you about it.
- Help develop a safety plan. One of the most dangerous times in an abusive relationship is when the victim decides to leave. Be especially supportive during this time and try to connect them to resources that can help keep them safe.
- Remember that ultimately they must be the one who decides to leave the relationship. There are many complex reasons why victims stay in abusive relationships. Your support can make a critical difference in helping them find their own way to end their abusive relationship.
Teen dating violence is a serious problem, but we believe that education leads to prevention. We can all help teens recognize the warning signs of an abusive relationship and teach them what a healthy relationship looks like.Loveisrespect is a project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline and Break the Cycle . We strive to be the ultimate resource to engage, educate and empower youth and young adults to prevent and end abusive relationships. Visit our website at www.loveisrespect.org.