Dating violence occurs when one person gains power and control in a relationship by verbal, emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse. Dating violence may occur in heterosexual or same-sex relationships. It may take place at any point in the dating process – when two people first meet or become interested in one another, on their first date, once they have been involved with each other for some time, or after their relationship has ended. Dating violence occurs most often in teen and young adult relationships.
Dating violence is similar to partner abuse. The cycle of abuse is always present and the characteristics of the abusive individual are similar (jealousy and possessiveness are more predominant in dating violence). Most partner abuse survivors relate that there were some incidents of abuse in the dating relationship. The major difference between partner abuse and dating violence is that in dating violence, the couple is not living together.
In all abusive relationships there is a continuum of violence. Initially, verbal assaults give the abuser power and control. When the verbal assaults no longer work, it moves to emotional and then physical abuse.
If a victim comes from a background where they have witnessed abuse in the home, some abusive behaviours are seen as normal. They may have little or no knowledge about what a healthy relationship looks like. Violence in a dating relationship is often overlooked because it is seen as flattery. Young people may perceive jealousy and controlling behaviour as loving devotion.
The statistics below refer mostly to teens, but are relevant to dating violence in relationships of all ages.
- Young women aged 15-24 experience the highest rates of dating violence
- 1 in 10 teens are affected by dating violence
- Physical aggression occurs in 1 in 3 teen dating relationships where abuse is present
- Dating violence increases in severity the longer the relationship continues
- Date rape accounts for 80% of all rapes
- More than 70% of pregnant teens and young mothers are in abusive relationships
- There is increased danger for the victim when trying to terminate the relationship without intervention and assistance from professionals
Early Warning Signs of an Abusive Relationship
1. Exaggerated Attention
This is shown by “around the clock” charming attention. Often in dating relationships, the abusive individual begins the relationship with exaggerated attention; always texting or phoning, stopping by unannounced to see what their partner is doing, bringing or sending gifts, offering to do anything and everything for them. Most often, the victim is flattered by this and believes it to be a sign of love and caring rather than control and possessiveness. The abusive partner may lavish attention on the victim’s family and friends and offer to help with anything they need done. The abuser tries to impress others and act like the “good guy”.
Exaggerated attention usually slips into possessiveness. The abusive partner wants all of the victim’s attention for them self. They arrange it so the victim does not have time to do anything else but see them. Possessiveness can be easily confused with love.
From exaggerated attention to possessiveness, it can easily flow into jealousy or the habit of watching over their partner with unreasonable suspicion and apprehension. This stems from the abusive individual’s fear that the victim may become interested in, or even come in contact with someone else who they will like better. *These first three warning signs – exaggerated attention, possessiveness and jealousy often appear all at once and can overlap at times.
4. Abusive Talk
This is when the abusive person discounts opinions or simply does not ask the victim what they think about anything. They also question and accuse the victim about where they have been and who they have been with. The abusive partner will use sarcasm and mocking (especially around other people) as well as threats and insults. The abusive partner often has unpredictable moods that can change without warning; they could be attentive, then quickly turn silent, cold or angry.
5. Criticism of Others
Abusive individuals usually begin criticizing others about something unimportant and petty – how they dress, their hair, choice of friends, and then move towards being critical of their partner’s friends, family and acquaintances. The reason behind this critical behaviour is hope that the victim will begin to doubt and isolate themselves, making it easier for the abuser to control them.
6. Competing for Attention from Other People
If someone comments on the victim’s hairdo, the abusive partner may ask for a compliment on their own appearance. Or, they may take credit for the hair, ex. “I was the one who suggested they have it done that way.” If the victim is praised for something they have done, the abusive partner may call attention to their own accomplishments. Abusive individuals rarely give compliments. It doesn’t fit in with their competitive mode. They are so centered on their own needs they cannot be generous with supporting others.
(Early Warning Signs of an Abusive Relationship PDF version.)
Types of Abuse
Isolating you, manipulating you, monopolizing your time, humiliating you in front of others, threatening suicide if you leave the relationship, ignoring you, criticizing the way you dress, etc.
Calling you names like stupid, ugly or lazy, muttering at you, mimicking you, yelling at you, swearing (when you don’t like it), swearing at you, threatening you, etc.
Hitting, punching, slapping, throwing objects, driving recklessly to scare you, punching objects near you, use of or threatening with a weapon, burning with a cigarette, etc.
Constantly accusing you of cheating, talking you into sex, using physical force to engage you in sex, talking about your private moments with others, telling sexual jokes which offend you, etc.
(Types of Abuse PDF version.)
Victim’s Early Reactions to Dating Violence
The victim finds themselves explaining where they have been and what they have been doing when they are not with their partner. Or they find themselves explaining the smallest of actions, like why they made a certain remark, dress the way they do, or order a certain meal. Each time an explanation is offered, victims begin to doubt themselves, which can lead to losing a sense of who they are.
Victims find that they are apologizing for things they haven’t done. Abusers often make accusations that are untrue or imagined.
3. Efforts to please
The victim may find themselves lost in efforts to please someone, who in the end they cannot please.
When a victim hears their partner criticize their relatives and friends they may hear a small voice inside their head say, “I’m glad I don’t act that way.” This reaction is often the beginning of a victim’s consuming efforts to please the abuser; of trying to be perfect for them – to prove that they are not like the people that have been criticized. A victim often loses sight of what kind of person they are and want to be.
5. Misinterpreting possessiveness for love, and jealousy as caring
This may be flattering in the beginning of the relationship and may seem like a sign of how deeply the abuser cares for the victim. However, it is more likely a sign that the abuser thinks they have the right to watch over, possess and control the victim. A person who is being abused may:
- Stop participating in things they enjoy
- Have little or no interest in family activities
- Have difficulty sleeping
- Not be able to concentrate
- Experience memory problems
- Start missing school/work more
- Experience a drop in their grades
- Avoid talking about the relationship
- Have unexplained cuts, bruises, scrapes, burns or bite marks
These things may lead to:
- Low self-esteem
(Early Reactions to an Abusive Partner PDF version.)
Why Dating Violence Occurs
People often become jealous because they are insecure about themselves and they are afraid they won’t be loved. Because they are insecure, they use their jealousy to dominate and control the person they love.
2. Using violence to assert power
People can learn mistaken ideas of what is normal in a relationship from what they see in the media or in their own home. They may see situations in which a strong person or group maintain their power by using violence to control people who are less powerful.
3. Traditional male belief system
Young men often mistakenly believe that they should dominate and control women because they are passive, and that women are obligated to please them.
4. Learned or witnessed behaviour
75% of men who abuse, witnessed their mother being abused in their childhood. They have learned to blame others for their problems and they learned to release their tension by losing their temper and exploding, no matter who gets hurt. They have not been taught how to effectively deal with their feelings.
5. Difficulty handling insecurity or anger
They are afraid their partner will leave them, so they have trouble trusting others. They don’t know how to communicate or talk about their feelings.
6. Low self-esteem
They feel unworthy and out of control so they transfer those feelings on to someone they love.
Characteristics of a Healthy Relationship
There are several characteristics of a healthy relationship. If these characteristics are present in the relationship, there will be no room for physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse.
- Good Communication
- Conflict Resolution
Helping Someone through Dating Violence
- Listen to them, believe them and validate their feelings.
- Focus on the changes you see in the victim, such as their concentration, mood, self-esteem, etc. rather than the issues within the relationship. When approached with issues in the relationship, a victim will shut down and become defensive. Rather than saying “I have noticed that your boyfriend is really controlling. He always keeps tabs on where you’re going and what you’re doing. What are you doing with him?”, a more positive way to help a victim is to say “I have noticed that you have been withdrawn lately – is there something going on that you want to talk about?” or, simply, “You don’t seem as happy as you used to be. I’m worried about you.”
- If the victim brings up abuse, explain that ignoring it is dangerous, especially if it includes physical violence. Ask them if they have been hit by their partner or fear it. The abuse usually gets worse as time goes on. Encourage them to speak with a counsellor as soon as possible and go with them to their appointment if they want you to.
- Reassure the person that they are not to blame, that they are not alone and that leaving the relationship is okay.
- Help them come to a decision about what to do. Do not be judgmental. Show the person that you support them no matter what they decide to do.
- DO NOT confront the abuser, as this could make the situation worse for the victim.
When your Child is in an Abusive Relationship
A victim may be scared to talk to their parents or family members about abuse and may be embarrassed or fear being blamed. Finding out that your child is being abused is difficult. You may have a range of reactions, including anger, panic, guilt and frustration. However, your support is very important.
- Be encouraging and supportive rather than critical. Try not to criticize their partner, as this can make them defensive and stop them from telling you how they honestly feel.
- Let them know that you care and are concerned about their safety. Also let them know that nobody has the right to abuse them and it is not their fault.
- Try not to tell them what to do, as they may have experienced this from their partner before.
- Think carefully and listen before deciding to take action. Forcing them to break up the relationship before they are ready can be counterproductive – they may secretly see their partner or stop talking honestly and openly. It is important to take your child’s wishes into consideration while still letting them know your concerns about their safety. If you decide you need to protect them from further abuse, let them know what action you plan to take.
Offer to protect your child. This can be done by changing phone numbers, answering the door/phone if the partner tries to contact, helping them obtain legal information, finding appropriate counselling services to help deal with effects of abuse, etc. Be careful not to put you or your child’s safety at risk when intervening.