Photo illustration of abused teen
Most victims of teen dating violence are female. Photo via Pixabay

The death of Gabby Petito drew national attention to the problem of domestic violence. And when it comes to domestic violence, we must also pay much more attention to teen dating violence.

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, but this kind of violence happens every month. Teen dating violence knows no boundaries and it can happen to anybody, any race, any culture, any socio-economic status.

Schools can do much more to empower students to report suspected teen dating violence, such as by providing links on their website homepage making reporting as simple as possible. 

Studies have shown that one in five San Diego students have experienced emotional violence and one in 16 have been subjected to physical violence. Therefore, it is incumbent upon teachers, parents, school administrators and students to report suspected teen dating violence to help victims break this cycle of abuse.

Not every teenage boyfriend and girlfriend argument is abusive, and there are healthy ways to resolve a disagreement. Teens are going to argue; they’re going to get mad at each other and that’s normal. Having a healthy relationship doesn’t mean teenagers will never have conflict.

But when they are having an argument, they need to be respectful, and how to be respectful should be taught at schools frequently. Nevertheless, when teen dating violence is suspected it should be reported. Providing students with easy access to the information required to report is needed now more than ever. 

Victims of teen dating violence may engage in unhealthy behaviors, like using drugs and alcohol. With drug dealers using social media to sell drugs that may contain potentially life-threatening ingredients, such as fentanyl, stopping teen dating violence will saves lives.

Although teen dating violence happens to both boys and girls, a disproportionate number of the victims are female. Female victims of teen dating violence are more likely to have eating disorders and some even think about or attempt suicide. In addition, teens who are abused in high school are at higher risk for victimization in future relationships and are also most frequently the victims domestic violence.  

A recent study found that of the more than 2,000 adolescents murdered between 2003 and 2016, nearly 7% were killed by their current or former intimate partners. Ninety percent of the victims were female, and their average age was around 17 years old. 

Teen dating violence is not limited to physical abuse. Many teens are abused emotionally with verbal put downs, public humiliation, threats of violence, controlling behaviors, and the systematic isolation from friends. Emotional abuse is the most common type of abusive conduct in teenage relationships.

In fact, emotional abuse is reported by 76% of all teens who report teen dating violence. However, emotional abuse tends to be talked about much less frequently than other, more identifiable types of harmful conduct.

While physical abuse may have immediately threatening repercussions, emotional and psychological abuse can cause just as much damage to a teen in the long run. Some perpetrators of teen dating violence will use technology to carry out their abuse by sending threatening text messages or threats via social media or email.  

The good news is that there are resources available. The San Diego County Office of Education has a Teen Dating Violence Awareness Toolkit located on its website that is packed full of great information and resources for teens, parents and teachers.

However, finding how to report attacks can be challenging. The San Diego nonprofit Parents For Quality Education has made it easy to report teen dating violence by providing a link to three websites where students can report confidentially. 

Middle and high school districts need to make reporting teen dating violence as simple as clicking a button or link on the district homepage and they should teach students how to report.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive dating relationship, free and confidential help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline. The number is 866-331-9474. The helpline also has peer advocates available via live chat.

Confidential help is also available through the National Domestic Violence Hotline. If you need help or know someone who may need someone to talk to, please call this hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

Collectively, we must do all we can do to protect our students from the dangerous outcomes of teen dating violence.  

Mark Powell is president of Parents For Quality Education and a former elected member of the San Diego County Board of Education. Powell has a masters degree in educational counseling and a school counseling credential.