Teen dating violence exhibits warning signs

Published 1:00 pm Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Teen dating violence occurs more often than most people realize, but there are usually warning signs.

Cassandra Kirkland, family life specialist with Mississippi State University’s Extension Service, said one out of every three teenagers has experienced some form of abuse in a dating relationship.

“Abuse of any kind, including emotional, physical and sexual abuse, is absolutely unacceptable and nonnegotiable,” she said. “It is important for individuals to remove themselves from abusive situations and relationships.”

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Kirkland said friends and family members often overlook the warning signs of potential abuse. Targets of abuse often exhibit a loss of friends, a drop in grades, a lack of interest in extracurricular activities and unexplained bruises and scars.

“Dating violence is one of the most significant causes of depression in teens,” she said. “Perpetrators of domestic violence tend to isolate their significant other from family and friends.”

She said the abusive partner may call the target multiple times throughout the day and night, and it is likely that the abuser comes from an abusive family.

Violent behavior in relationships tends to increase, and the first indication of any of the warning signs of abuse should be used as evidence to leave the relationship, Kirkland said.

Kirkland said violent outbursts are often followed by a “honeymoon period,” during which the abuser will try to make amends. Ultimately, though, the tension will build again and result in another abusive outburst.

“Individuals may need both emotional and physical support to get out of an abusive situation,” Kirkland said. “They can find support from friends, family members and domestic violence shelters. Also, they should not believe the myth that things will get better in an abusive relationship; oftentimes, the abuse escalates.”

She said she advises teens to establish clear boundaries in romantic relationships. They should to talk to friends, family members and trusted adults about questionable behaviors they observe in potential relationship partners, such as attempts to control the relationship and isolate the target from friends.

Diane Mills, community coordinator for Care Lodge Domestic Violence Shelter in Meridian, said a partner who has been verbally or emotionally violent in the past may be physically or sexually abusive in the future.

Mills said unhealthy relationships occur when one person tries to control the relationship or change the other person. If one person in the relationship feels scared or pressured, the relationship is unhealthy.

“At Care Lodge, we encourage teens to end the relationship when they see it’s not healthy so they can, hopefully, keep it from getting to the point that it’s physically abusive,” she said. “The longer a teen stays in an unhealthy relationship, the harder it will be to get out and the more likely it will become violent.”

Mills said most communities have resources for victims of dating violence, and she encourages victims to reach out to someone they trust for help. Confidential peer advocates are available to answer questions and can be reached by calling toll-free 1-866-331-9474, by chatting live online athttp://www.loveisrespect.org, or by texting “loveis” to 77054.