Teen Dating Violence Facts


We use the phrase “teen dating violence” (TDV) because that is the language generally used by advocates and the public health community to describe abusive and controlling behaviors in adolescent relationships. We use the term for the sake of consistency in sharing common language, but there are few important points to be made about this phrase…

  • First, the use of the term “teens” does not mean that these dynamics are limited to relationships between teenagers. You will see in the incidence information provided below that these dynamics are present in relationships among younger youth including the “tweens” group.
  • Second, the formal term “dating” may not be the language that the youth you serve use to describe their relationships. Whether they are hanging out, hooking up, going out, crushing, flirting or seeing, we use “dating” as an inclusive term to cover the spectrum of adolescent romantic relationships from casual episodic encounters to longer-term committed relationships.
  • Finally, it’s important to note that the use of that term violence does not mean that our understanding of the dynamics or responsibility to respond to abusive behaviors is limited to physical acts of violence.   

 Here’s a comprehensive definition that we like from the Ohio Domestic Violence Network (2010):

 Teen dating violence is a pattern of actual or threatened acts of physical, sexual, financial, verbal/emotional abuse, sexual or reproductive coercion, social sabotage, and/or sexual harassment perpetrated by an adolescent against a current or former partner or a person with whom the teen has some kind of intimate relationship.

 While it’s necessary to educate young people about the warning signs and impact of abusive relationships, it’s at least equally productive to talk with them about relationship rights, respect and the dynamics of healthy relationships. It’s important to note that we are down on abusive relationships, not on all relationships. We understand that relationships for adolescents fulfill many of the same roles that adult relationships fulfill—conferring social connections and status, friendship, and affection.

 According to the organization that you work with, you may have particular expectations for the expression, degree and boundaries in relationships between the youth that you serve, but if the kids that you work with feel like you’re simply the relationship police, they may not hear concerns that you have about the health and safety of their relationships. Here’s a great healthy relationship definition from the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance (2009):

A healthy relationship is a connection between people that increases well-being, is mutually enjoyable, and enhances or maintains each individual’s positive self concept.

 A significant majority of students report experience of sexual harassment. A study of these behaviors commissioned by the AAUW Education Foundation in 2001 found that 8 out of 10 students experienced sexual harassment at some point in their school lives. The AAUW Education Foundation (2001) study defines sexual harassment in this way:

           Sexual harassment is unwanted and unwelcome sexual behavior that interferes with your life. Sexual harassment is not behaviors that you like or want (for example wanted kissing, touching, or flirting).

 In the past many institutions have had a somewhat casual attitude about sexual harassment understanding those behaviors as harmless flirting, or as “kids being kids”. We recognize that sexual harassment creates a hostile environment for the kids who are victimized and that these behaviors may be a precursor to teen dating or sexual violence among perpetrators. Again, we’re not against flirting (we’re actually fans), but you might want to talk with the kids you serve about how they can flirt in ways that feel safe, mutual and respectful.

 The relative explosion in communication technologies over the past decade has created new forums that abusive individuals can use to monitor, control or humiliate their victims. Behaviors that used to be conducted interpersonally or through peer intermediaries are increasingly played out via cell phones and social media sites. A poll conducted by the Associated Press and MTV in 2009 found that 50% of young people ages 14-24 have experienced digitally abusive behavior. The AP-MTV poll (2009) defined digital abuse in this way:

Digital abuse may include writing something online that wasn’t true, sharing information that a person didn’t want shared, writing something mean, spreading false rumors, threatening physical harm, impersonation, spying, posting embarrassing photos or video, being pressured to send naked photos, being teased, and encouraging people to hurt themselves.

Forms of digital abuse identified include:

  • Excessive messaging—Using texting and other electronic media to constantly check up, harass or threaten a dating partner.
  • Sexting—Sending unwanted sexual images of self or badgering a partner to share sexual images.
  • Spying—Using technology to check up on a partner’s digital activity. Could include reviewing call history, computer history, hacking into email accounts or social media sites.
  • Digital sabotage—Using technology to spread damaging information (could include true, but private information or false information) about a partner. This could include posting damaging information online, or creating a false profile for an individual.

 How does TDV differ from adult domestic violence?

There are both similarities and important differences between adult domestic violence and teen dating violence. As a culture we are just beginning to recognize and to pay better attention to TDV. There has been a tendency to minimize the seriousness of those relationships because adolescent dating partners don’t typically share households, financial interests or children. We are increasingly recognizing that TDV is prevalent and serious. Domestic violence fatality review work nationally has shown deaths among teen dating partners, but also deaths among older adults where the relationship began when the partners were teenagers. We know that domestic violence typically starts early/young; early prevention efforts and effective interventions provide our best opportunity to get in front of the problem to protect youth and to prevent adult domestic violence.

 Similarities between TDV and adult domestic violence include the fact that the relationships are real, potentially dangerous, significant to the victim and perpetrator and difficult to end. The barriers that teens facing in ending abusive relationships may be different than those faced by adults, but they are real. Like in adult relationships, teen relationships are embedded in their broader social networks (school, work, activities, friends) and the victim might face pressure from peers to remain in the relationship.

 Differences between TDV and adult domestic violence include the fact that teens have less control over their lives and schedules generally including the school that they attend, their routes to school, where they work, their class schedule, activity schedules, etc. Additionally, there are far fewer resources and systems designed to protect victims of TDV. There are fewer legal protections as well as fewer services available to minors through domestic violence programs. Domestic violence programs are not able to provide shelter to minors who have not been emancipated and shelters cannot guarantee confidentiality to minor victims who disclose abuse as they are able to do with adult victims. 

 With these barriers—minimization, limited legal recourse, limited service options, fears, anxiety about reporting requirement, negative social consequences, etc.–it is not surprising that most victims of TDV never tell an adult about their experience. They have not had a lot of evidence to make them believe that we could help them. By incorporating conversations about TDV in your work and by listening to what young people have to say about their feelings and experience of abuse, you can create a culture of trust where young people feel that they have something to gain by disclosing their experience.

 Incidence and Impact

Middle Adolescence (15-18)

  • 12.1% of Indiana students surveyed in the 9-12th grades reported being hit, slapped, or physically hurt by their boyfriend or girlfriend within the past 12 months (Indiana Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2009).
  • 11.1% of Indiana students surveyed in 9-12th grades report having been physically forced to have sexual intercourse against their will at some point in their lifetime. 17.3% of female students and 5.2% of male students reported this forced sexual experience (Indiana Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2009).
  • Nationally, 25% of adolescents reports emotional, physical, or sexual violence each year (Foshee, et al, 1996).
  • Adolescent girls in physically abusive relationships were 3.5 times more likely to become pregnant than were non-abused girls (Roberts, et al, 2005).
  • 1 in 4 teens in a relationship say they have been called names, harassed or put down by their partner through cell phones and texting (Liz Claiborne and TRU, 2007).

 Early Adolescence (11-14), “Tweens”

  • 72% of tweens report that boyfriend/girlfriend relationships usually begin at age 14 or younger (Liz Claiborne and TRU, 2008).
  • 47% of tweens in relationships say that they know friends who have been verbally abused by a boyfriend or girlfriend (Liz Claiborne and TRU, 2008).
  • 40% of the youngest tweens, ages 11 and 12, report having friends who experience verbal abuse in their relationships (Liz Claiborne and TRU, 2008).

 As indicated in the statistics above,  both boys and girls experience forms of teen dating violence (TDV); however, it is important to note that girls and boys are differentially impacted by these forms of abuse where girls who are victimized report significantly higher rates of fear and injury than do boys who are victimized.

 Kids “hit” other kids for a lot of reasons—their motives may include anger, jealousy, flirtation, etc. While we never think that hitting is a good thing, we understand some of those hits as distinct from TDV. When we discuss TDV, we’re focusing on the pattern of behaviors that an abusive teen might use to control and belittle his or her partner. The teen power and control wheel provides a helpful illustration of the spectrum of behaviors and how an abuser might use several pieces to gain and maintain power and control in his relationship.


 As we mentioned above, while providing youth with information about abusive relationships, it is essential to contrast those behaviors with information about healthy relationships. The teen equality wheel below is a helpful tool for depicting the spectrum of supportive, respectful, trust fostering behaviors that young people can expect in their relationships.