Holes punched in walls; screaming in my face; swerving the car dangerously; reading my diary; punching my little brother; ignoring my requests to leave; these were just a few of the warning signs that my high school boyfriend was an abuser.
Of course, at the time, I didn’t know what a warning sign was or that I was in an abusive relationship. I knew that what he was doing was wrong though, to the point that I moved across the country in fear of being trapped by him.
I didn’t learn until my 60-hour training at Mutual Ground (over 10 years later) that what I experienced was dating violence. It was during this training that I learned about the cycle of violence, power and control dynamics, and warning signs of abusers. It was during this training that I heard stories similar to mine and some much worse.
I often considered myself lucky to have gotten out of that relationship before things got “out of hand”, but the reality is that the relationship was never within my control. I ran away because my instincts alone told me to. Had I not been able to do so, the abuse definitely would have continued to escalate. As it was, it took me years after our break-up and into adulthood to shake him completely.
Teen dating violence is much more common than people think. 1 in 3 teens experience some sort of abuse before adulthood (loveisrespect.org), but no one talks about it. No one tells you when their boyfriend is calling them names or making them cry. They only post the happy, lovey-dovey stuff on social media. Raising awareness and starting a dialogue are vital elements to preventing dating abuse.
Only about one-third of teens ever tell anyone about their abuse. So, how can we know if someone we care about (or even ourselves) is in an abusive dating relationship? Knowing the warning signs is key. Below are just a few warning signs of an abuser/abusive relationship.
Violating your privacy
Friends/Family don’t like them
Isolation from friends/family
Pressure to cross personal boundaries
Violence towards humans/animals
Obsession with weapons
Once you have identified the warning signs, you must recognize that things could get worse. Thus, leaving the abuser is pertinent to preventing future abuse. However, this is a dangerous step that must be taken with caution. Reaching out to an agency like Mutual Ground for guidance is recommended, as is creating a safety plan, not going alone to a break-up, reporting any threats to law enforcement, and completely cutting ties with this individual after the break-up has been secured. Mutual Ground supports and empowers victims to take whichever actions they feel are best suited for their individual circumstances.
Mutual Ground assists victims every day in creating safety plans, legal advocacy, hospital advocacy, counseling and education. Had I known about Mutual Ground, I could have benefited from their educational resources and support services. I may have been able to end the abuse sooner and felt safer moving forward.
Finding a trusted adult to talk to about dating violence is the first step towards ending the abuse. Trusted adults exist all around us if we are willing to look: school social workers, teachers, coaches, relatives, private counselors, neighbors, and community agencies. With the support of a trusted adult, victims can confront the abuse and feel empowered to leave.
It is not uncommon for teens to tell a friend in this situation, rather than an adult. If a friend confides in you: listen to them, believe them, and encourage them to seek help. As a trusted friend, you can play a vital role in supporting a victim and ensuring they receive the help that they need. Anyone can call Mutual Ground anytime 24/7 to get support for dating violence by calling our anonymous hotline: 630-897-0080.
If you think you may be the abuser in your relationship, you too can seek help. Talk to a trusted adult about your concerns. Life changing counseling services are available at doctors’ offices and through various community organizations. Intervening on your own behalf takes courage but can be rewarded by healthy relationships in the future.
I never asked for help because I didn’t know how to. In February Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month is dedicated to raising awareness about abuse and how to get help. We can all contribute to raising awareness and preventing abuse by starting a dialogue with teens about healthy and unhealthy relationships. Get more information at loveisrespect.org
Prevention Education Specialist at Mutual Ground