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What Domestic Violence Looks Like in Middle and High School

By Madison Reinhold, Intern


Relationships in middle and high school have their differences from their adult counterparts. While some young couple’s conflict starts and ends with who’s asking who to the prom, there may be more beneath the surface. 


According to the Center for Disease Control, about 1 in 12 teenagers experienced relationship violence in their past relationships. The same amount experienced sexual violence in their relationships. Young women are more likely to experience violence, as well as LGBTQ youth. 


Relationship violence in general has many warning signs that show regardless of age. Emotional, abusers might be controlling, jealous, or possessive. They may demand to read your text messages or try to control the friends you spend your time with. They quite often make you feel unheard and unworthy. Physical and sexual abuse can happen in teenage relationships as well.


Youth have additional risk factors. Youth.gov says that teens who start dating younger or start having sex younger are at a higher risk of experiencing violence. Teens who are surrounded by violence in their community or neighborhood or have friends and family in abusive relationships also have a higher risk. 


In an academic setting, teens also face more risks. MSU Safe Place describes “Academic Abuse.” A teen’s life often revolves around school. Abusers in school settings may prevent their partners from doing their homework, or claim that their victims care more about academics than they do about their abuser. Abusers may pick a fight right before a big exam. They may schedule dates or important events that interfere with their partner’s academic calendar. And, if the abuser’s grade’s start to fall, they may blame their victim. Teenagers also have the additional risk of seeing their abusive partner everyday in school, or feel pressured to stay in a relationship because everyone else is in one. 


Digital abuse is common in teenagers, says Leah Dryer, Director of Community Outreach at Eve (End Violent Encounters.) Teenagers in violent relationships may be victims of sexual exploitation or have their abuser coerce them into sending explicit images to them. Other types of digital abuse can include the abuser monitoring their partner’s social media habits, going through their phone or limiting who they communicate with. 


Knowing the right thing to do when supporting anyone through relationship violence is difficult. For parents with a child in an abusive relationship, Dryer advises to be supportive, believe them, and to not let parental instincts take over, to let them get out of the relationship on their own. 


If you’re a teenager with a friend in an abusive relationship, being a supportive friend is paramount. “Friends are more likely to go to friends,” says Dryer, “Always let the survivor dictate the best route. They’re going to know the situation better, they’re going to know the abuser better.” Reaching out to a trusted adult is also a good option. 


Chart describing common traits of healthy, unhealthy, and abusive relationships.
Health relationships means that you and your partner are: communicating, respectful, trusting, honest, equal, enjoying personal time away from each other, making mutual choices, and are economic or financial partners.  You may be in an unhealthy relationship if your partner is not communicating, disrespectful, not trusting, dishonest, trying to take control, only spending time together, pressured into activities, or unequal economically.   Abuse is ocurring in a relationship when one partner is communicating in a hurtful or threatening way, mistreating, accusing the other of cheating when it is untrue, denying their actions are abusive, controlling, or isolating their partners from others.
Is My Relationship Healthy?

image from https://greenhouse17.org/teen-dating-violence-awareness-prevention-month/

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