A Parent's Guide to School Safety Toolkit

3.6 Dating Violence

Student sitting with hands clasped, looking down and dejected

Dating violence, also known as domestic violence or intimate partner violence, describes the physical, sexual, verbal, or emotional abuse by a person to harm, threaten, intimidate, or control another person in a current or former dating relationship, partnership, or marriage. Dating violence does not discriminate, as it can occur in couples who are same-sex, heterosexual, or gender nonspecific, and it does not require a sexual relationship. A person of (almost) any age, race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion can be a victim (“target”) or perpetrator of dating violence. It affects people of all education levels and socioeconomic backgrounds.

According to Love is Respect.org, nearly 1.5 million high school students are targets of dating violence each year, and nearly 1 in 3 girls in the U.S. is a target. The highest rate of dating violence occurs in females between the ages of 16 and 24, as they experience it at almost triple the national average. Experiencing dating violence in adolescence increases the risk for substance use, further violence, eating disorders, and other adverse health outcomes. Only 1 in 3 teens experiencing dating violence tells someone.

What are the indicators for dating violence?

High school student sits with their back to a wall, looking at their partner

Dating violence behaviors can include:

  • Physical violence, such as choking, shaking, slapping, or hitting.
  • Sexual violence, including use of coercion, manipulation, or force.
    • It can also include unwanted posting of sexual photos online. (See Section 3.5 Sexting for more information.)
  • Psychological violence, including threats or accusations, instilling the belief of unworthiness, restricting contact with others, extreme or obsessive jealousy or insecurity, constant belittling, or control over appearance.
  • Stalking, including driving by house, school, or job, sending repeated texts or calls, damaging property, monitoring all activities.
  • Financial control, including stealing property, getting partner fired or written up at job, preventing partner from working.

What do I do if I find out my child is in an abusive relationship?

Two students hold hands while walking down a road

It is difficult and scary to hear that your child is involved in an abusive relationship. Your instinct will be to take control to protect your child. However, this can lead to disastrous outcomes. The following strategies from Loveisrespect.org, a resource project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, are suggested to maintain trust and ongoing, two-way communication between you and your child:

  • Be ready to listen, give support, and reassure them that abuse is not their fault.
  • Believe your child.
  • Show and verbalize concern for their safety.
  • Talk about the behaviors, not the person. This may be difficult to do, but speaking poorly of your child’s partner may push your child closer to their partner or cause them to defend their partner’s behavior.
  • Avoid giving ultimatums. This can push them further away from you.
  • Educate yourself on the warning signs of dating violence so you are prepared.
  • Decide on next steps together.

The most dangerous time for a target of dating violence is when the target attempts to leave or leaves their abuser. The abuser may try to escalate their control and power to try to get the target to stay in the relationship. Research has shown that the risk for homicide escalates when the target of abuse decides to leave the relationship.

If your child is involved in an unhealthy relationship, it is prudent that they talk with a mental health professional, for example, a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), or Licensed Psychologist (Ph.D.) The mental health professional can screen for mental health concerns, evaluate risk levels, and provide treatment, if appropriate.

A High School students has hands over his face, crying

It is also a good idea for the school counselor and other school staff to be aware of the abuse as it can impact your child at school. It may affect them academically, emotionally, socially, and behaviorally. It is especially important for school staff to be aware if the partner also attends the school. This is so that school police or the school’s threat assessment team can be aware and intervene if necessary. Abuse and violence can escalate, even at school.

If you are made aware of a minor, for example, your child’s friend or peer, being involved in an abusive relationship, it may warrant calling the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) at 1-800-252-5400 or www.txabusehotline.org. If your child is a minor and is in a romantic relationship with someone aged 18 or older, or you are made aware of another minor who is in a romantic relationship with someone aged 18 or older, mandated reporters are required to notify DFPS. Information on how to report can be found at www.dfps.state.tx.us/contact_us/report_abuse.asp.

What are districts required to do?

Districts are required to have and implement a dating violence policy which includes defining dating violence and addresses safety planning, how to enforce protective orders and school-based alternatives to protective orders. It also must include counseling impacted students, and education awareness for parents and students.

Dating violence can be considered “harmful, threatening, or violent” behavior. As such, it falls under the safe and supportive school program team. (See 2.9 School Behavioral Threat Assessment and Management for more information.) Depending on the situation, dating violence may also be considered unlawful harassment, bullying, or cyberbullying.

What Should My Child Know?

It is never too early to discuss healthy relationships with your children. Look for opportunities to discuss and point out positive examples and characteristics of relationships while spending time with them. As divorce rates have increased, and television and social media portrayal of relationships have not been realistic or ones to model, young people sometimes have difficulty knowing what healthy relationships look like.

  • Healthy relationships are based on respect and being equal. People in healthy relationships make decisions together, can talk about anything openly without fear, and enjoy spending time together and apart.
  • Unhealthy relationships are based on attempts to control. This may look like one person making most of the decisions, pressuring the partner to do things, or believing you should only spend time with them.
  • Abusive relationships are based on power and control. This may look like one person making all the decisions, not being “allowed” to spend time with friends or family, or feeling like you cannot talk to anyone about what is going on in your relationship.

Talk about healthy friendships and boundaries. Talk about how:

  • Compromising is healthy. It is ok to do things that you want to do, not just what your friends enjoy doing, and vice versa.
  • Being honest and speaking up about how you feel is important in friendships and relationships.
  • A good friend (or partner) is someone who brings out the best IN you and wants the best FOR you.
  • There will be some people who do not like you, and that is okay. It is okay to disagree sometimes; be respectful and seek to understand the other person’s perspective.

Ensure that your child knows the warning signs of dating violence, that dating violence is never their fault, and there is nothing they can do that warrants abuse. Reassure your children that they can talk with you, or another trusted adult, about anything, and that you are a team. When having these conversations, remember that the goal is to have an open dialogue, rather than a lecture, and it is best to have these conversations on a regular basis rather than once. Also talk with your child about what to do if they are concerned about a friend who may be experiencing dating violence, including telling you, using the anonymous reporting system, or speaking with a school counselor, another trusted school staff member, or a member of the SSSP team. The important thing for your child to know is that violence tends to escalate over time and that abuse usually does not stop on its own.