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Domestic violence is not just a problem for adults. An alarming number of adolescents in this country have been and will become victims of physical, emotional or sexual abuse from a dating partner. This pattern of teen dating violence cuts across all ethnic groups, socio-economic groups and geographic regions. Both male and female teens can become victims but most of the time, boys inflict more serious physical injuries on girls.

The facts behind teen dating violence are disturbing:

  • One in 10 high school students has been hit, slapped, or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend.
  • Violent behavior often begins between the ages of 12 and 18.
  • Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence, almost triple the national average.
  • Half of youth who have been victims of both dating violence and rape attempt suicide.

Many teens do not report dating violence because they are afraid and ashamed to tell friends and family.

Teens as well as their parents should be proactive and ask these questions about their dating partners. Does the boyfriend or girlfriend:

  • Have a history of bad relationships or past violence?
  • Always blame their problems on other people including blaming you for making them treat you badly?
  • Try to use drugs or alcohol to get you alone when you don't want to be?
  • Try to control you by being bossy, not taking your opinion seriously, or making all of the decisions about who you see or what you wear?
  • Engage in excessive sexual talk?
  • Pressure you to have or force you to have unprotected sex?
  • Engage in stalking, possessive or controlling behaviors that restrict your freedom of movement? Constantly text you or call you to find out where you are and who you're with?

In these instances, the most important thing a teen can do is get help. They should go to an adult they trust, including a teacher, school principal, counselor or work supervisor. If a crime has been committed they should seek out law enforcement so they can get the protections only a court can provide. Parents need to understand that abusers exert power over their victims and it may be hard for your teen to end the relationship. If your teen has confided in you, be comforting and supportive. Tell your teen you’re concerned about their safety and discuss with them how he/she can stay safe. Safety plans must be developed that include knowing in advance what to do, where to get help, who to call and how to escape danger.

Destructive relationships during the teen years can lead to lifelong unhealthy relationship practices, may disrupt normal development and can contribute to unhealthy behaviors in teens that can lead to chronic mental and physical conditions in adulthood. Teens that are physically hurt by a dating partner were more likely to say they engage in risky sexual behavior, binge drink, use drugs, attempt suicide and participate in physical fights.

This problem requires a multi-prong response to include mental health professionals, schools and law enforcement. Assistant District Attorneys regularly visit high schools to discuss the problem of teen violence. Our Special Prosecutions Division handles domestic abuse cases including those having to do with teen dating violence. Their phone number is (914) 995-3000.

For teens that need immediate help, Hope’s Door is an organization in Westchester that has a 24 hour Hotline for those that need to talk about dating violence. That number is (888) 438-8700. There is also Breakthecycle.org, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering youth to end dating violence.

You may also contact One Love, which is an organization dedicated to raising awareness and conducting education about warning signs of abuse and relationship violence or PEACE OUTside Campus, which helps teens and families to be proactive about safety and healthy relationships on college campuses.

The cycle of abuse among our young people must be broken and the Westchester County District Attorney’s office is committed to that effort.