In recent years, domestic violence has become a more popular topic of discussion than it has ever been. We’re seeing more coverage of domestic violence in the media – with a new celebrity incident occurring regularly, it seems. But, did you know that according to a 2013 survey, approximately 10% of high school students reported being physically victimized and 10% reported being sexually victimized by a dating partner in the prior year? And, that teen dating violence has been deemed a public health problem by the Center for Disease Control?
Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard much, or anything, about teen dating violence. Many teens do not report the violence they experience because they are too afraid to tell their friends and family, but the effects, like those associated with the more-familiar domestic violence, are serious. Teens who are victims of dating violence are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors, and more likely to be victimized in college.
It’s scary to think that teens – children – are experiencing violence in relationships at such a young age, but children learn from the examples of those around them. Children are always watching. They watch their parents, other adults in their lives, and their peers. They learn how to behave in relationships and how to react to situations based on how those around them behave in relationships and react to those same situations.
The first line of defense against teen dating violence is to teach young people the skills needed to create positive relationships with others. These lessons begin at home. If you are a parent in a domestic violence situation, think about the effect it may have on your children and how much your behavior will impact them in the long-run. If you see concerning behaviors in your teen, speak up. Talk to them and help them find the resources they need- whether it is a counselor at school, a psychologist, or an attorney to walk them through their legal options.
Advice You Can Give Your Teen About Dating Violence
What advice can you give your teen about dating violence? Here are a few things that I would encourage:
1. Do not engage in any form of contact with the abuser. Do not initiate contact. Do not respond to contact. Do not ‘like’ the abuser’s photos or posts on social media. Do not even hang out with mutual friends if the abuser will be present. While there is no excuse for abuse – ever – to engage in contact sends a message to the abuser that you want to remain in touch and will likely lead to continued or increased contact from the abuser.
2. Gather evidence of the abuse, if possible, and keep a journal. For example, if the abuse is in the form of threatening text messages, take screenshots that show who (the abuser) sent the message, when the message was sent, and the content of the message. If the abuse is verbal, such as threats made directly to the victim at school, or stalking, keep a detailed journal about what happened, when it happened, and anyone else who was present at the time of the incident.
3. Let other people who you trust know what is going on. Talk to your parents and friends, and tell someone at school. Keep them updated on the situation so they can intervene if it becomes necessary. Even if it does not become necessary to intervene, these people can be additional sets of eyes looking out for you and your safety (even if you think you can handle it on your own).
4. Talk to a counselor or therapist. Domestic violence situations, especially for teenagers, are difficult to understand and process. For a teenager, this may be their first experience with a relationship. Victims need someone to talk to who can help them sort through their own feelings. All victims, but specifically young victims, need someone who can help them understand what a healthy relationship looks like and that this is not it.
5. If it becomes necessary to take action, consider asking an attorney to intervene or contact the abuser’s parents. Ask that person to explain what has happened, request that the abuser stop, and explain the possible repercussions if he/she does not stop.
6. If at any point you feel you are in danger, contact the police.
Advice For Parent or Guardian
If you find yourself in this situation, either as a victim who is not yet 18 or as the parent of a victim who is not yet 18, consider consulting with an attorney. He or she can help you navigate the process of filing for a protective order (also known as a domestic violence protective order) and advise you on the appropriate steps to take in your situation. An attorney can help you complete, file, and serve the Complaint; can give you advice on the hearing; can help you organize your evidence; and can represent you at the hearing.
In North Carolina, a person must be at least 18 years old to initiate a court action. That does not mean that a victim who is under the age of 18 cannot seek a Domestic Violence Protective Order; it just means the process of doing so is a bit different. When a victim of domestic violence is under the age of 18, that person’s parent, or certain other qualified adults, can file for a Domestic Violence Protective Order on behalf of the child as a Guardian ad litem. Essentially, the adult will be the one to actually sign the Complaint for Domestic Violence Protective Order, will testify in court – in place of or in addition to the victim – and is acting in the best interests of the child.
As a family law attorney, I hear heartbreaking stories of domestic violence more often than I had ever expected. While I help people by navigating them through what is often the darkest time of their lives, I also am able to help families come out thriving on the other side. Whether it is child victims or their parents, as an advocate, bringing a logical perspective to a very emotional situation can be the best service I can provide to ensure the safety of those who need it most.
Contact an experienced attorney today at firstname.lastname@example.org or call our office at (704) 442-0000.