National statistics on dating violence show a startling trend:

  • 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner each year.
  • 1 in 10 high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped, or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend.
  • Girls between ages 16-24 experience the highest rates of intimate partner violence. Three times the national average.

Teens are more than likely to first disclose abuse to a peer but if they chose to disclose abuse to a trusted adult we should be equipped to help them navigate the process. Below are some suggestions on how we can best help a young person begin the journey of addressing the abuse.

Barriers to Disclosing Abuse

Let’s start by looking at the reasons a young person might not say anything about the abuse:

  1. Fear of not being believed.
  2. Humiliation.
  3. They believe they are responsible for the abuse.
  4. Need to protect the abuse/family.
  5. Asking for help equals weakness.
  6. Fear of reprisal.

What Leads to Disclosure

  1. Anger
  2. Medical concerns
  3. Realizing implications of abuse
  4. Asked about the abuse by a non-family member
  5. Siblings are at-risk
  6. Abuse becomes intolerable
  7. No longer in relationship with abuser
  8. Safe relationships to confide in

How Best to Respond

  1. Empathy
  2. Don’t judge/Check personal bias
  3. Be direct but don’t force the conversation
  4. Manage your reactions (don’t overreact)
  5. Remember appropriate developmental expectations
  6. Be patient
  7. Consider gender/sexuality issues
  8. Follow-up/Take action

If you work with youth/teens in any capacity you are likely a mandated reporter (check your state guidelines). It would also be wise to develop a program policy specific to how your team should handle disclosure of abuse of any kind.

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