What is dating violence?

Dating violence or domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior characterized by the intent to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner. It can happen in straight or gay relationships. It can include verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, or a combination. With time, the abusive behavior can be more frequent and severe.

Dating violence can take many forms

  • Physical – any use of force that causes pain or injury. Examples: hitting, hair pulling, kicking, pinching, punching, shoving, slapping, and strangling.
  • Controlling Behavior

Examples: not allowing you hang out with your friends, calling or texting you frequently to find out where you are, whom you’re with, and what you’re doing, having to be with you all the time, and telling you how to dress.

  • Emotional and/or verbal – constant criticism, threatening to hurt loved ones or harassment at school or in the workplace. Examples: belittling you, jealousy, name-calling, and threatening to hurt you, someone in your family, or himself or herself if you don’t do what he or she wants.
  • Economic – controlling a person’s income or financial assistance

Examples: misusing one’s credit or making it difficult for a person get or maintain a job 

  • Psychological – minimizing or blaming a person for the abuse, intimidation and/or threats or destroying property 
  • Sexual Abuse – can include sexual harassment or sexual assault.

Examples: forcing or manipulating you into having sex by making you feel guilty, not allowing you to use birth control, or unwanted kissing and touching.

Dating violence is characterized by violent actions or threats of violent actions, including behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure or wound a partner. It is the abuse of power and control.

How do you know you’re a victim of dating violence?

  • Feel angry, anxious, confused, depressed, lonely, or sad.
  • Feel helpless to stop the abuse.
  • Feel like you can’t talk to family and friends.
  • Think it’s your fault.
  • Uncertain of your future.
  • You consistently feel humiliated or threatened.
  • You are in fear of getting hurt physically or sexually.

Behavioral changes you might see are:

  • Clinginess
  • Doing poorly in school including skipping classes or extra-curricular activities
  • Exhibiting detachment from reality or nervousness
  • Frequent headaches or stomachaches
  • Lack of concentration
  • Mood swings
  • New eating or sleeping habits
  • Use of alcohol or drugs

Get Help

Being a victim of dating violence is not your fault. Nothing you do, say, or wear gives anyone the right to hurt you.

  • If you think you are in an abusive relationship, get help immediately!
  • Talk to someone you trust like a parent, coach, counselor, adult neighbor, nurse, school principal, teacher, trusted family member like an older sibling or cousin.
  • If you choose to tell, you should know that some adults are mandated reporters. This means they are legally required to report neglect or abuse to someone else, such as the police. You can ask people if they are mandated reporters and then decide what you want to do. Some examples of mandated reporters are teachers, counselors, doctors, social workers, and in some cases, or coaches
  • If you need help in deciding whom to talk to, call a crisis line in your area and speak to a professional.

Precautions you can take

  • When you go out, let family and friends know where you are going and when you will be back.
  • Go out in a group or with other couples.
  • Have money available for transportation if you need to take a bus or taxi to escape.
  • Keep a cell phone or calling cards handy for immediate communication.
  • Memorize important phone numbers, such as the people to contact or places to go in an emergency.
  • In an emergency, call 911!


If you know someone who might be in an abusive relationship, you can help by

  • Offer your friendship and support.
  • Remain calm. Remember that your friend will be aware of your reactions.
  • Be a good listener and non-judgmental. Ask for details of the abuse.
  • Encourage your friend to seek help. Assist in finding people who can support like other friends, coaches, counselors, teachers and family members.
  • Ask how you can help.
  • Use phrases such as “Nothing you did or didn’t do makes you deserve this, I appreciate you sharing this with me, I believe you, I am proud of you, and I’ll support your decisions.”
  • Avoid phrases such as “Don’t tell anyone, just forget it ever happened, get over it, try not to think about it or this wouldn’t have happened if you.”
  • Educate yourself about dating violence and healthy relationships.
  • Avoid any confrontations with the abuser. This could be dangerous for you and your friend.
  • Allow your friend time to heal and stay in contact with her or him on their progress.


High-School Students

  • Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year. 1
  • One in three adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a figure that far exceeds rates of other types of youth violence. 2
  • One in ten high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend. 3

Why Focus on Young Women

  • Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence — almost triple the national average.
  • Among female victims of intimate partner violence, 94% of that age 16-19 and 70% of that age 20-24 were victimized by a current or former boyfriend or girlfriend.
  • Violent behavior typically begins between the ages of 12 and 18.
  • The severity of intimate partner violence is often greater in cases where the pattern of abuse was established in adolescence.

College Students

  • Nearly half (43%) of dating college women report experiencing violent and abusive dating behaviors.
  • College students are not equipped to deal with dating abuse – 57% say it is difficult to identify and 58% say they don’t know how to help someone who’s experiencing it.
  • One in three (36%) dating college students has given a dating partner their computer, email or social network passwords and these students are more likely to experience digital dating abuse.
  • One in six (16%) college women have been sexually abused in a dating relationship.

Effects of abuse

  • Violent relationships in adolescence can have serious ramifications by putting the victims at higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior and further domestic violence.
  • Being physically or sexually abused makes teen girls six times more likely to become pregnant and twice as likely to get a STI.
  • Half of youth who have been victims of both dating violence and rape attempt suicide, compared to 12.5% of non-abused girls and 5.4% of non-abused boys.

Lack of Awareness

  • Only 33% of teens who were in a violent relationship ever told anyone about the abuse.
  • Eighty-one (81) percent of parents believe teen-dating violence is not an issue or admit they don’t know if it’s an issue.
  • Though 82% of parents feel confident that they could recognize the signs if their child was experiencing dating abuse, a majority of parents a majority of parents (58%) could not correctly identify all the warning signs of abuse.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Physical Dating Violence Among High School Students—United States, 2003,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, May 19, 2006, Vol. 55, No. 19.
  2. Davis, Antoinette, MPH. 2008. Interpersonal and Physical Dating Violence among Teens. The National Council on Crime and Delinquency Focus. Available at http://www.nccd-crc.org/nccd/pubs/2008_focus_teen_dating_violence.pdf.
  3. Grunbaum JA, Kann L, Kinchen S, et al. 2004. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance—United States, 2003. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 53(SS02); 1-96. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5302a1.htm.
  4. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice and Statistics, Intimate Partner Violence in the United States, 1993-2004. Dec. 2006.
  5. Callie Marie Rennison, Ph.D., Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Intimate Partner Violence and Age of Victim, 1993-99” (2001). Available at: http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/ipva99.pdf
  6. Rosado, Lourdes, The Pathways to Youth Violence; How Child Maltreatment and Other Risk Factors Lead Children to Chronically Aggressive Behavior. 2000. American Bar Association Juvenile Justice Center.
  7. S.L. Feld & M.A. Strauss, Criminology, 27, 141-161, (1989).
  8. Fifth & Pacific Companies, Inc. (Formerly: Liz Claiborne, Inc.), Conducted by Knowledge Networks, (December 2010). “College Dating Violence and Abuse Poll,” Available at: https://www.breakthecycle.org/surveys.
  9. Fifth & Pacific Companies, Inc. (Formerly: Liz Claiborne, Inc.), Conducted by Knowledge Networks, (December 2010). “College Dating Violence and Abuse Poll,” Available at: https://www.breakthecycle.org/surveys.
  10. Fifth & Pacific Companies, Inc. (Formerly: Liz Claiborne, Inc.), Conducted by Knowledge Networks, (December 2010). “College Dating Violence and Abuse Poll,” Available at: https://www.breakthecycle.org/surveys.
  11. Fifth & Pacific Companies, Inc. (Formerly: Liz Claiborne, Inc.), Conducted by Knowledge Networks, (December 2010). “College Dating Violence and Abuse Poll,” Available at: https://www.breakthecycle.org/surveys.
  12. Jay G. Silverman, PhD; Anita Raj, PhD; Lorelei A. Mucci, MPH; Jeanne E. Hathaway, MD, MPH, “Dating Violence Against Adolescent Girls and Associated Substance Use, Unhealthy Weight Control, Sexual Risk Behavior, Pregnancy, and Suicidality” JAMA. 2001;286(5):572-579. doi:10.1001/jama.286.5.572
  13. Decker M, Silverman J, Raj A. 2005. Dating Violence and Sexually Transmitted Disease/HIV Testing and Diagnosis Among Adolescent Females. Pediatrics. 116: 272-276.
  14. D. M. Ackard, Minneapolis, MN, and D. Neumark-Sztainer, Division of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, Date Violence and Date Rape Among Adolescents: Associations with Disordered Eating Behaviors and Psychological Health, Child Abuse & Neglect, 26 455-473, (2002).
  15. Liz Claiborne Inc., conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited, (February 2005).
  16. “Women’s Health,” June/July 2004, Family Violence Prevention Fund and Advocates for Youth, http://www.med.umich.edu/whp/newsletters/summer04/p03-dating.html.
  17. Fifth & Pacific Companies, Inc. (Liz Claiborne, Inc.), Conducted by Teen Research Unlimited, (May 2009). “Troubled Economy Linked to High Levels of Teen Dating Violence & Abuse Survey 2009,” Available at: https://www.breakthecycle.org/surveys.