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Preventing and Responding to Teen Dating Violence

Young people, 12 to 19 years old, experience the highest rates of rape and sexual assault, and youth, 18-19 years old, experience the highest rates of stalking.

Young people, 12 to 19 years old, experience the highest rates of rape and sexual assault, and youth, 18-19 years old, experience the highest rates of stalking. As 13 to 19 year-olds move toward adulthood and independence, they begin making decisions without parental or guardian involvement, have their first romantic relationships, and hold their first job or internship. This time of new responsibilities and experiences can be extremely challenging as teens begin to navigate the complexity of balancing their independence with forging close relationships.  All child and youth serving organizations can play a role in helping teens have healthy and respectful relationships in addition to intervening in situations where abuse may be occurring. 

According to the CDC, some teens are at greater risk than others. Female students experienced higher rates of physical and sexual dating violence than male students. Students who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) or those who were unsure of their gender identity experienced higher rates of physical and sexual dating violence compared to students who identified as heterosexual. 

Experiencing abuse during childhood and adolescence can have lasting harm on future independence and well-being. The good news is violence is preventable, and we can all help young people grow and thrive. 

Every February, organizations, schools, young people and their loved ones join together across the country for a national effort to raise awareness about the issue of teen dating violence through Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (TDVAM). This annual, month-long push focuses on advocacy and education to stop dating abuse before it starts.  

Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month Resources:

Additional strategies to improve programming for teens:

  • Center youth voice in all program development conversations. Engaging youth in meaningful and authentic ways will ensure your program is relevant and addresses the most pressing needs of the teens you are working with. Create opportunities to build leadership skills and engage their peers in the process. 

  • Meet teens where they are – utilize methods of program delivery that are relevant and easily accessible by the youth you are trying to reach.  

  • Offer programming and activities that connect teens together breaking isolation and creating positive friendship networks. Ex: after school video game club, basketball leagues, book clubs, volunteering opportunities, etc. 

  • Engage influential and important adults in children’s lives – teachers, coaches, after school program staff, health care providers they can trust to create networks of support and positive role models. 

  • Offer education to staff on recognizing the signs of unhealthy relationships and how to intervene.  Ensure mandatory reporting protocols are in place.

  • Youth serving organizations can partner with a local DV program to help build capacity and referral pathways. 

  • Implement strategies including primary TDV prevention programs, bystander intervention, public education campaigns, and other programs that work directly with teens to promote healthy relationships. 

  • Develop policies and protocols to address incidents of bullying, dating violence, and sexual assault that could occur among participants in your programs. Including developing workplace policies for staff. 

  • Provide staff working directly with teen survivors with trauma informed supervision and other supports to foster resiliency and reduce the impacts of vicarious trauma. 

  • Create protective environments – improve school climate, ensure your physical spaces are inviting to teens – create areas where teens can have privacy and include age-appropriate books, magazines, video games, music, etc.

Direct Work with Teens:

  • Take teens seriously, be supportive and respectful of their experiences.  

  • Support their resilience and growth by helping them think about what they want and need in their relationship and how to set boundaries.  

  • Challenge gender roles and expectations – respect and embrace diverse gender identities/expression and pronoun usage. 

  • Help them find a health professional they trust. 

  • Support them to make decisions about their bodies.  

  • For transgender and nonbinary people, emotional abuse might look like a partner preventing them from making their own choices or shaming and/or punishing them for ways in which they express their gender identity, etc.   

  • Encourage their interests and strengths. Remember that ultimately, they must decide what they believe is best for them.