Recognizing and Responding to Teen Dating Violence Toolkit

4.3 If You Are in An Abusive Relationship

girl covering face against green wall

Know that statistically, the abuse will not stop, and it will likely get worse. As much as we may love our partner, we cannot heal or fix them. We did not cause them to be abusive and we cannot stop them from being abusive. As a reminder, there is nothing that we can do, or not do, to cause us to be a victim. The ONLY person who is responsible for abuse is the person exhibiting abusive behavior.

Change is possible, but that person must truly want to change. It takes a lot of effort and work, and it needs to be done with the help of a licensed mental health provider. Although you may love that person and want to be with them, your physical safety and emotional health are most important.

Staying in an abusive relationship out of love or fear while hoping that things will get better only means being hurt longer.

Staying in an abusive relationship out of love or fear while hoping that things will get better only means being hurt longer. Things don’t get easier over time; they get harder. If you think you are seeing warning signs of abusive behaviors, don’t wait until it turns into an abusive relationship. Get out now.

Staff with materials

Tell someone. We need to tell friends or trusted adults what we are going through so that they can support and help us. Some of us may not want to tell our parents what we are going through because we don’t want to hear a lecture or get in trouble, and we want them to trust our judgment and decisions. The last part of our brain that develops is the part that is responsible for impulse control, decision-making, and problem-solving. That part of our brain continues to develop until around age 25. This doesn’t mean that we can’t control our impulses or make good decisions until then, it means that when it comes to solving problems, we may see one or two ways to solve a problem where an adult may see twenty. What feels like a forever problem to us is one that an adult recognizes is temporary and can help us work through it to see that it really is solvable. Most adults are trying to prevent us from experiencing the pain they went through. They know and want us to believe them when they say that things will get better, even when we feel that they won’t.

If our parent isn’t someone who we feel safe talking to, then we can talk with an aunt, uncle, grandparent, family friend, neighbor, coach, or other school staff member we trust. What matters is that we tell someone, preferably several people, who can help us identify available options, keep us safe, and determine the next steps. It can be helpful to say something like, “I have some concerns about my relationship. Can you please just listen to me and then help me determine my next steps?” Adults can’t always promise confidentiality, because they may need to tell someone to ensure we are safe. They care about and are concerned for us, and they may not have the expertise that is needed.

Safety planning

If you decide to leave the relationship, time and thought must be given as to how to do it as safely as possible. The most dangerous time for you is when you try to leave the relationship. Research has shown that the risk of homicide escalates when the victim of abuse decides to leave the relationship. The danger can exist long after a breakup takes place, and those around you can also be at risk of harm. Being aware of safety practices is important.

A safety plan includes actions and strategies to ensure your safety while in an abusive relationship, during the plan to leave the relationship, and after the relationship ends. Anyone can create a safety plan. You can create one on your own or with help from a friend, parent, or staff member. A safety plan can be created for various locations and situations including school, online, home, work, and other places.

Safety planning helps us think through and plan for the steps we need to take to maintain safety. For example, we may have the same friends as our abusive partner, and we may even go to the same school. Our partner may know our social media and email passwords, have keys to our house or car, know where we work, have items we want back. In addition to changing social media and email passwords, it may be safest to avoid asking for the items and keys to be returned and instead change the locks to the house and car. The plan may include asking the school to change our schedule, so we don’t have the same classes as our partner. It is a good idea for the school counselor and other school staff, including the school resource officer (SRO), to be aware of the abuse, especially if our partner attends the same school. Abuse and violence often get worse, even at school.

Your safety is more important than someone else’s feelings!

legal document and scale

If the abusive partner goes to the same school or same district as us, there are certain things in place that can help.

School Behavioral Threat Assessment

Dating violence is an example of “harmful, threatening, or violent” behavior. As such, it falls under the Safe and Supportive School Program (SSSP) team, commonly referred to as the threat assessment team. One of the team’s responsibilities is to conduct behavioral threat assessments. School behavioral threat assessment and management is a proactive and evidence-based approach for identifying people who may pose a threat and for providing interventions before a violent incident occurs. Every school campus (public school and open-enrollment charter school) in Texas is required by law to have a threat assessment team.

Dating violence is a school safety issue. Violence from a partner can take place at school or impact the victim at school even if the violence doesn’t occur on school property. As school safety is a shared responsibility, you play an important role in keeping your school safe and free from violence. You can report concerns through your school’s anonymous reporting system or by telling a school employee.

Title IX

Title IX is a federal civil rights law that protects people from discrimination in an educational setting based on their sex. It applies to all students in elementary, secondary, and post-secondary schools regardless of the student’s identity.

In Texas, minors have rights under Title IX and the Texas Family Code. The Texas Council on Family Violence created a tip sheet with an overview of minors’ rights.

Ask for help. There are resources and people who can help. Even if we feel that no one cares, the truth is that many people do.

  • Resources

  • Crisis Text Line
    • Crisis Text Line provides free and 24/7 support by trained crisis counselors. Text HOME to 741741 for assistance.
  • Love is
    • A comprehensive free 24-hour resource on dating, healthy relationships, personal safety, and more. You can live chat, call at 866-331-9474, or text LOVEIS to 22522.
  • 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline
    • Offering 24/7, confidential, and free support for anyone in distress. This lifeline provides vital crisis resources and acts as a mental health emergency line. Dial 988 for support.
  • The Trevor Project
    • An essential platform that provides information and support tailored for LGBTQ young people.

If we are, or have been, in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, it is a good idea to talk with a mental health provider so that we don’t keep getting into the same kinds of relationships in the future. We aren’t aware that we are doing it, but it is easy to repeat patterns and get into similar relationships because it is what feels familiar and comfortable.