Recognizing and Responding to Teen Dating Violence Toolkit

1.4 How Does It Get Missed?

male student alone wearing hoodie

Dating violence identification, reporting, and help-seeking behavior can be impacted by a person's values, belief systems, and stereotypes about roles and relationships. Dating violence occurs in relationships regardless of gender. Males can be victims of dating violence and sexual assault, and females can be perpetrators of dating violence and sexual assault. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, research shows that female students and students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer are at a greater risk of experiencing physical and sexual violence in a dating relationship.

Cultural values, beliefs, and gender stereotypes can prohibit or discourage identification and reporting of abusive behavior or seeking help. In some families or cultures, decisions are made according to what is best for the group (usually the family) rather than what is best for an individual. For example, a family may believe that it is best for someone to stay in a relationship because of the value that the person brings to the family. Financial security, the importance placed on staying married, the caretaking of children, or religious beliefs are different examples of the value someone may bring to a family. Religious beliefs may also deter someone from leaving an abusive relationship. In some families or cultures, traditional gender roles may influence whether certain behaviors are viewed as abusive.

Students socializing

Language can reinforce stereotypes. The saying, “boys will be boys” excuses and minimizes behavior and shifts responsibility, thus blaming and shaming the victim of the abuse. We minimize the abuse or blame the victim when we say, “It wasn't that serious,” “What did you do to make them do that?,” or “What were you wearing?” When a teenager is being hit by his partner and his parents say, “be a man”, the message he receives is that he should be okay with being hit or he is weak if it hurts or upsets him. Abuse is abuse, regardless of gender. Identifying beliefs, values, stereotypes, and language used in our own families or cultures can help us to better recognize when behavior is abusive and to seek help for ourselves or offer help to those around us.

It is worth reiterating that there is nothing that a person did, or did not do, to cause their victimization. The responsibility lies with the person who is abusive. No one asks for it, no one deserves it, and no one brought it on themselves. We must change our language, stop blaming the victim, and start holding the perpetrator of the abuse accountable for their actions.