February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month!

By the time you finish reading this sentence, a woman somewhere will have been abused.

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. Dating violence is a reality for many youth, and an issue that many parents are not aware of.

Statistics show that one in three people are affected by physical, sexual or verbal, dating violence, with one in five in a serious relationship reported having been slapped, hit, threatened, or coerced by a partner. About one in three high school students have been or will be involved in an abusive relationship.

Abuse in a dating relationship can be confusing and frightening at any age. For teenagers or tweens, who are just beginning to date and develop romantic relationships, this abuse is especially difficult, because only half recognize the warning signs of a dangerous relationship .

Teen dating violence is also often hidden because teenagers typically are inexperienced with dating relationships, they may be pressured by peers to act violently, want independence from parents, or have "romantic" views of love.

Ten of the most common warning signs of abuse at any age include:

1.Checking your cell phone or email without permission
2.Constant put-downs
3.Extreme jealousy or insecurity
4.Explosive temper
5.Financial control
6.Isolating you from family or friends
7.Mood swings
8.Physically hurting you in any way
10.Telling you what to do

A 2008 study commissioned by Liz Claiborne and loveisrespect.org found: 40 percent of the youngest tweens, those between the ages of 11 and 12, report that their friends are victims of verbal abuse in relationships, and nearly one-in-ten (9 percent) say their friends have had sex.

One-in-five between the ages of 13 and 14 say their friends are victims of dating violence, such as getting struck, hit or slapped by a boyfriend or girlfriend, and nearly half of all tweens in relationships say they know friends who are verbally abused.

Only half of all tweens (51 percent) claim to know the warning signs of a bad/hurtful relationship. In addition, significant numbers of teens (15-18) are experiencing emotional and mental abuse as well as violence when dating; it's even more prevalent among teens who have engaged in intercourse by the age of 14.

Break ups can be a time of even greater risk, even when a relationship was never physically abusive. Young people can choose better relationships when they learn that healthy relationships are based on respect and learn to identify early warning signs of an abusive relationship.

Elimination of dating violence must be achieved through cooperation of individuals, organizations, and communities. Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month provides an excellent opportunity for citizens to learn more about dating violence and to show support to the numerous organizations and individuals that provide critical advocacy, service and assistance to victims

Many communities face the problem of teen dating violence, and young people can be afraid to discuss it, or they may not recognize the severity of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. Parents and other adults may also be uncomfortable acknowledging that young people experience abuse, or may be unaware of its occurrence.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there are lots of resources to help. National Teen Dating Abuse Help Line: 1-866-331-9497 www.loveisrespect.org. The National Resource Center for Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month: www.teendvmonth.org.