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Helping teens recognize and deal with dating abuse


Loveisrespect.org is an organization that provides answers for teens and anyone else with questions or concerns about dating abuse.

  Audio transcript

Haslett: When teenagers start dating, parents usually talk to them about sex. Most parents want their teenaged child to be aware of the risks of sexually transmitted disease or unwanted pregnancy. But there’s another risk that comes with dating that many teens and their parents don’t consider. That’s the risk of abuse. Emotional abuse is a warning sign of physical abuse, and physical abuse can be deadly. In 2011, five north Texas girls were killed by their boyfriends, according to the Texas Council on Family Violence. Abuse can be a difficult concept for teens and adults. Teenagers who come from homes with unhealthy emotional relationships don’t have a model of what a healthy relationship looks like. They’re particularly vulnerable. There is help, though. One source of help is the National Dating Abuse Helpine. Their website is loveisrespect.org, and they offer many services to teens with problems or questions. Katie Ray-Jones is president of the organization.

Ray-Jones: Loveisrespect.org is a national organization that provides education and support to teens and young adults who are experiencing dating abuse or have questions about what’s going on in the relationship and how we can best support teens to ensure that they have healthy relationships.

Haslett: The website has lots of information about what sort of behaviors are healthy or unhealthy, but the most direct way the project helps people is through one-on-one communication. Teenagers can talk on the phone, text message, or use web chat to discuss what’s going on with their relationships and get advice.

Ray-Jones: The content of those conversations could be anything from a young person who isn’t sure if they way her partner is talking to her is OK, or it could be a young person who’s experiencing physical abuse or verbal abuse in a relationship and they’re needing information on how to stay safe or how to leave the relationship in a safe manner.

Haslett: Teens don’t always feel comfortable talking to strangers, even friendly ones who’ve been trained in counseling. The online chat and text message options are preferred by some teens. In fact, since conversations can be overheard and desktop computers are often shared, many teens say that texting is the most private way they have to communicate. Parents and educators use the service, too. So do teenagers who are concerned about a friend. It’s all confidential.  Ray-Jones says that the project began when the National Domestic Violence Hotline identified a need to have something available specifically for young people.

Ray-Jones: We operate the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which is a platform for adults and we were finding that there was increase in the number of young people who were reaching out for education and information about relationships. And we knew that in order to really create a service model that would be appropriate and resonate with young people, we needed to get young people to help us to provide that service and to communicate to other young people about what healthy relationships look like and how to talk to them about ways to stay safe. Because young people really do have different dynamics – they’re in a school setting, where they’re going to see their boyfriend or girlfriend all the time, and so it’s important that we’re talking about those dynamics when we’re thinking of ways to have healthy relationships.

Haslett: Most of the calls and messages come from teens between the ages of 13 and 17. One big problem around abuse is the same problem that adults have – many people don’t understand that abuse is not just physical violence. Controlling behaviors, invasions of privacy, extremes of jealousy or manipulation – many teens just don’t understand that relationships shouldn’t make them feel bad about themselves or afraid.

Ray-Jones: What we really want young people to understand is that verbal abuse – that can be a sign early on in the relationship, there’s the potential for physical violence later. So emotional abuse really could be lots of things. Typically what we hear from young people is put-downs, intimidation, using isolation, telling them that they only want to spend time with them, that they shouldn’t be seeing their friends, telling them how to dress, talking to them about the way that they’re engaging other people, constantly just making them feel bad about themselves. So it is really important that if someone’s experiencing those types of things or you’re someone who’s witnessing someone experiencing those things that you reach out through loveisrespect.org and find ways to help and get safe.

Haslett:  Ray-Jones says that teens in small towns can have a hard time choosing someone to talk to, because of small-town social dynamics – it can seem like everybody eventually finds out about everything. That’s when having somewhere else to turn can really help. Here at KETR, we’re helping get the word out through our website, KETR.org. If you’re a regular visitor at KETR.org, you’ve probably noticed our high school football season previews, which have been running all month. At the bottom of each article is a graphic with basic information about loveisrespect.org. It’s our hope that teenagers, family members and educators can be aware of this resource. Teenagers and those that love them should know that if they or someone else need help or just have some questions, there is someone to talk to. For KETR News, this is Mark Haslett.

From www.loveisrespect.org:

Warning signs

Extreme jealousy or insecurity; isolating a partner from friends and family; stopping the partner from participation in extracurricular activities; constantly putting a partner down; checking a partner’s cellphone or email; making false accusations; physically hurting the partner; possessiveness; constantly telling the other person what to do; and repeatedly pressuring the partner for sex.

For help with dating abuse problems, contact the National Dating Abuse Helpline.

Text “loveis” to 22522

or call 1-866-331-9474

or visit www.loveisrespect.org/about-national-dating-abuse-helpline