Teen Dating Violence

Teen Dating Violence Is Prevalent and Disruptive

According to the CDC, teen dating violence (also known as adolescent relationship abuse, or ARA) is defined as the physical, sexual, or psychological/emotional violence within a dating relationship, as well as stalking.1 It can occur in person or electronically and may occur between a current or former dating partner.

The 2009 CDC Youth Risk Behavior Survey revealed that 9.8% of high school students report being hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriend or girlfriend in the 12 months prior to the survey.2 The 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, revealed even more alarming statistics: About 1 in 5 women and nearly 1 in 7 men who ever experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner, first experienced some form of partner violence between 11 and 17 years of age.3

Teen dating violence is also referred to as adolescent relationship abuse because adolescence spans a long time (ages 10-24) and reference to abuse includes a range of abusive behaviors and not only physical violence.4

“Teen dating violence [is] far too prevalent and prevents far too many students from being able to focus on their education.”  Kevin Jennings, the Assistant Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Education

Research has shown a strong connection between teen dating violence and poor health outcomes.  For example, teens who are victims of physical dating violence are more likely than their non-abused peers to smoke, use drugs, engage in unhealthy diet behaviors (taking diet pills or laxatives and vomiting to lose weight), engage in risky sexual behaviors, and attempt or consider suicide. Note that some youth also experience reproductive coercion: abusive behaviors by male partners intended to promote pregnancy in females.Female public high school students who reported ever experiencing physical or sexual violence from a dating partner in a Massachusetts study were four to six times more likely than their non-abused peers to have been pregnant and eight to nine times more likely to have attempted suicide in the past year.6

SBHCs Prevent and Address Teen Dating Violence

Healthy relationships, particularly in the context of dating or sexual activity, play an important role in increasing the use of contraception and preventing teen pregnancy. Being located in schools, school-based health centers (SBHCs) are in close proximity to teens’ social environment and have a unique ability to assess adolescents for dating violence and reproductive coercion. SBHCs can also provide counseling support or referrals to address these issues, in addition to promoting respectful relationships through both clinical and classroom education.  Adolescent relationship abuse is common among adolescent seeking services, with one study reporting a 40% lifetime prevalence of physical/sexual violence victimization among adolescent females who use urban teen clinics.7 In an adolescent relationship abuse (ARA) intervention pilot study with two adolescent health centers (one of which was an SBHC), researchers found that clients welcomed providers discussing healthy relationships with them, and they saw significant increases in youth knowledge of ARA-related resources, and reductions in tech abuse.8

The California School-Based Health Alliance conducted a review of research and interviews with select SBHCs to gain a better understanding of interventions that are currently being utilized in the exam room and at school. Please see our new Addressing Teen Dating Violence at School-Based Health Centers resource highlighting key TDV strategies and interventions employed by SBHCs in California.

Resources for Practice

For tools to help you implement SBHC programs to address these issues, see TDV Resources.

(1) Centers for Disease Control, Injury Center: Violence Prevention site.
(2) Centers for Disease Control, Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2009
(3) National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 2010
(4) National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, 2011
(5) Centers for Disease Control, Injury Center: Violence Prevention site.
(6) Silverman, J, Raj A, et al. 2001. Dating Violence Against Adolescent Girls and Associated Substance Use, Unhealthy Weight Control, Sexual Risk Behavior, Pregnancy, and Suicidality. JAMA. 286:572-579.
(7) Roberts TA, Auinger P, & Klein JD. (2005): Intimate Partner Abuse and the Reproductive Health of Sexually Active Female Adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health 36: 380-385.
(8) Miller E, Decker MR, Raj A, Reed E, Marable D, & Silverman JG. (2009): Intimate Partner Violence and Health Care-Seeking Patterns among Female Users of Urban Adolescent Clinics. Matern Child Health J.