In The Know Zone

dating violence basics

Dating Abuse Overview

You’re standing at the entrance to an unfamiliar street. You know that there’s a one-in-five chance (if you’re a girl)[1] or one-in-ten chance (if you’re a boy)[2] that something unpleasant will happen to you if you walk down it. But you walk down it anyway.

Not likely? Actually, it’s very likely you have already done something quite similar. You’ve started dating. The unpleasant experience is dating abuse.

While many behaviors constitute dating abuse, they can be reduced to a single sentence:

Dating abuse is any behavior that seeks to deprive its victim of the independence and respect that the abuser demands for himself in the relationship.

The abuser, in short, seeks to turn his (or her) victim into a thing—an object serving the abuser’s ends, with little or no regard for the victim’s needs and wishes.

All dating abuse is aggressive, but not all aggressive behavior within a dating relationship constitutes abuse. Acts of physical aggression between dating partners may or may not stem from efforts by one partner to dominate and control the other. And it is control, not aggression, that underlies dating abuse.

One study, for instance, found that 45 percent of high school girls and 43 percent of boys reported that they had experienced some form of physical aggression from a dating partner at least once in their dating experience.[3] But the suggestion that this represents some sort of gender parity in violence is misleading. In 70 percent of cases, girls reported that their male dating partner initiated the violence.[4] And the reaction to violence was distinctly different. The most common reactions reported by girls were fear, followed by emotional hurt. For boys, the reaction was either amusement or anger.[5] Clearly, if one partner is frightened and the other amused, the situations are not equivalent.

According to the most widely accepted estimate[6], one high school girl in five will be involved in a physically or sexually abusive relationship. Forty percent of girls aged 14 to 17 say they know someone their age that has been hit by a boyfriend.[7]

Some 61 percent of all rape victims are under 18, and one in three of them are raped by someone they have dated

Nor is that the worst that happens. Nearly a third of all female teenage homicide victims are killed by a boyfriend or former boyfriend.[8]

As troubling as those statistics are, they represent only the most extreme forms of dating abuse. If emotional and psychological abuse is added to the estimates, some studies have claimed that abuse occurs in over 90 percent of relationships.[9]

Again, it must be stressed that psychological, emotional and physical abuses are means to an end—the control and domination of one dating partner by the other.

Tragically, it often works. Nearly 80 percent of girls who have been physically abused by a dating partner remain in the relationship![10]


[1] Silverman, J.G., et. al; Dating Violence Against Adolescent Girls and Associated Substance Use, Unhealthy Weight Control, Sexual Risk Behavior, Pregnancy, and Suicidality; JAMA, Aug 2001; 286: 572 - 579.

[2] Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey 2001, quoted in Davis, R., Domestic Violence Facts Fudged and Forgotten,available at www.mensnewsdaily.com/archive/c-e/davis/04/davis100204.htm, 2004, accessed 11/30/2004

[3] O’Keefe, M., Treister, L., Victims of Dating Violence Among High School Students.,in Violence Against Women,4, pp. 195-223, 1998,quoted in Dating Violence Fast Facts, available at http://www.newbeginningsnh.org/fastfacts.html., accessed 11/30/2004

[4] Molidor, C., Tolman, R., “Gender and Contextual Factors in Adolescent Dating Violence,in Violence Against Women,4, pp. 180-194, 1998.,quoted in Dating Violence Fast Facts

[5] Ibid

[6] Dating Violence Against Adolescent Girls and Associated Substance Use, Unhealthy Weight Control, Sexual Risk Behavior, Pregnancy, and Suicidality

[7] Children Now: Kaiser Permanente Poll, 1995 cited in Teen Dating Violence Fact Sheet,National Council for Victims of Crime, 2003

[8] California Women’s Law Center, Teen Dating Violence: An Ignored Epidemic, p. 1, 2001. available at http://www.cwlc.org/teen_dating_policy_brief.pdf, accessed 10/13/2004

[9] Jonson-Reid, M. & Bivens, L. (1999). Foster youth and dating violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 14(12), 1249-1262. cited in Teen Dating Violence, National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center, available at www.safeyouth.org/scripts/teens/dating.asp#8, accessed 12/1/2004

[10] City of New York, Teen Relationship Abuse Fact Sheet, March 1998; cited in Love is Not Abuse: Statistics; available at www.loveisnotabuse.com/relationship/stats.asp. Accessed 1/12/2004

In The Know: At Risk Pamphlet/ DVD Package
"In The Know: At Risk-Dating Violence, Love Doesn't Have To Be This Way" Pamphlet
In The Know: At Risk DVD Package