Teen dating violence: ‘It’s not just a one-time talk’

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) In a room at the Bill C. Anthis Center, parents sat down for a session focused on safe dating and teen domestic violence Thursday.

It’s an unusual topic for parents, probably not something they had to deal with when they were in high school.

“Teen dating violence is still a fairly new subject,” Dottie Davis, Director of Security at Fort Wayne Community Schools, explains to the group.

Since a bill passed in 2011 called Heather’s Law, schools are required to implement dating violence education programs for grades six through 12.

The bill is named after Heather Norris, a college student who was killed by her high school boyfriend in 2007. She is just one of the estimated millions of students across the nation to experience physical abuse from a dating partner. According to the CDC, 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year.

FWCS Director of Security Dottie Davis reads from her notes at a Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016 event for parents to lean how to prevent teen violence.
FWCS Director of Security Dottie Davis reads from her notes at a Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016 event for parents to lean how to prevent teen violence.

“We don’t get into a relationship with someone if there isn’t some type of an attraction,” Davis said. “And generally they don’t assault you on the first date.”

She explained violent tendencies can take time to show up, after someone is already hooked in and there’s an emotional bond.

Some of the clues to watch out for include:

  • Having to check in with their partner constantly
  • Isolation from core friends
  • Student stops doing things they really enjoy
  • Being told what to wear
  • Grades dropping

Many times, students don’t realize they are in an abusive relationship. As Davis explains, they minimize the problem by thinking, ‘they’re really good to me on this day but on this they day they also shove me down.’ It can be confusing when the student is getting mixed messages from their partner.

The reality is that one in three teens in the U.S. is the victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a partner, according to Love is Respect, a project from the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Love and Respect is a website recommended by the YWCA, which provides dating teen violence education in school in six northeast Indiana counties. Those include Allen, DeKalb, Huntington, Noble, Wells and Whitley counties.

The program is used in classrooms where a speaker talks to students about a wide variety of subjects including what a healthy relationship looks like, how to set boundaries between partners and friends, and what warning signs to look for in an unhealthy relationship.

“Teens rely so much on what their peers think about them,” YWCA Community Education Director Jennifer Rohlf explained.

Rohlf pointed out that of the 1.5 million students who will experience violence in a relationship only 33 percent will tell someone. She said students stay silent because they are afraid of judgement, either from their parents or their peers or they don’t want to get their partner in trouble.

Parents can look for conversation starters on TV or on the radio. “Media, technology and television are a big part of what [students think] is acceptable,” Rohlf explained. She said teens see repeat behavior and start to think that’s normal.

Parents should try to change that social norm. She recommends when parents see an example of an unhealthy relationship, whether on TV or radio that they use that as an opportunity to start a conversation with their student.

Rohlf said it’s important for parents talk about abuse often. “It’s not just a one-time talk,” she said.

To read the Parent’s guide to teen dating violence, from the YWCA, click here.

To read a list of dating abuse statics, including those in this article, click here. 

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