Teen dating violence is an equal opportunity crime. It does not matter where you live, what race you are, what your family socio-economic status is, what kind of car you drive, what kind of grades you get, etc. It is alarmingly common. It is estimated one in three teens experience some type of abuse in their relationships, including verbal and emotional abuse. February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, which is why we are dedicating this month’s column to the issue.
Date rape, also called acquaintance rape, is defined as any nonconsensual sexual activity between two or more people that know one another. Current statistics tell us that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 7 men will be the victim of a sexual assault sometime in their lifetime. There are 1 in 4 teen girls that have been in relationships that reveal they have been pressured to perform oral sex or exchange in intercourse (Teen Research Unlimited, 2005). In circumstances where the two people know each other, and even if they were intimate or had sex before, no one has the right to force a sexual act on another person without their consent.
When teen date rape occurs, the survivor may feel confused as to whether consent was made or not. Teens do not often have the dating experience to understand what consent is and what qualifies as abuse. Because date rape can often occur in situations where drugs and alcohol are being used, many teen victims are reluctant to report date rape due to their own illegal drug use or underage drinking at the time they were assaulted.
Many survivors feel ashamed or embarrassed, blaming themselves for the assault because they were drinking or using drugs, how they were dressed, how they were behaving, or who they were hanging out with. Most survivors will feel they are to blame in some way. This is not true. No survivor is ever “asking for it”, nor are they to blame in any way. No always means No. Remember, rape is not about sex, it is about power and control. It is not about sex or how the woman is acting, it is about the rapist wanting to exert control over a person.
According to experts, many teens do not realize they have been sexually assaulted right away (RAINN, 2008). They may think they have given mixed signals or did not fight enough. Sometimes weeks, even months, may pass before the teen realizes what has happened and can face that sexual assault had occurred. This is called “Date Rape Time Lag” and is common in 44% of date rapes (National Woman’s Health Information Center).
It is important to talk to your teen about date rape. Help them to learn about healthy relationships and recognize red flags in an abusive relationship. Talk to them about safety in situations, like never leaving a drink unattended, always knowing where the exits are, and high risk situations. CAASA offers free self-defense classes as well as a national program, Girls Fight Back!, check out other opportunities that may be available in your community or school that will help too. Programs that help teens feel empowered and raise their self-esteem make them less likely to give in to negative peer pressure and set clear boundaries.
Unfortunately, no matter how many precautions are made, sexual violence can still occur. If this happens, it is important to seek medical attention immediately. When making the report to law enforcement, remember to preserve all physical evidence, do not change clothes or wash. Call a friend, family member, or someone you trust and talk to them, have them stay with you if it helps. Write down as much as you can remember about the assault. If you’re not sure what to do, call a crisis center.
The Crisis Call Center in Reno has a toll-free number and can assist with crisis intervention as well as local referrals and resources- 1-800-992-5757.