Dating Violence
 last updated August 2013
Dating violence is a “pattern of abusive behaviors,” including emotional, physical, sexual, and financial abuse, “used to exert power and control over a dating partner.”[1] It can affect anyone, anywhere, at any age, of any race, class, religion, gender, or sexual identity, and can be present in any dating relationship, whether serious or casual, short-term or long-term, monogamous or not.[2] It can occur in face-to-face interactions or through technology (text messaging, social networking sites, etc.).[3] And it can occur during a relationship and after a relationship has ended. In fact, the period following a break up is often the most dangerous time for a victim.
In the U.S., dating violence is particularly prevalent among teens and young women, with those aged 16-24 at the highest risk. [4] Twenty-five percent of high school girls have been victims of physical or sexual abuse[5] and one in five college women report actual or threat of physical or sexual violence.[6] Like domestic violence in general, dating violence is greatly under-reported. While one in three teens will encounter some form of dating violence, only one-third of them will report it.[7]
The U.S. has characterized teen dating violence as an issue of national urgency, but it is prevalent throughout the world. A 2012 study concluded that victimization rates across Europe are comparable to those in North America,[8] and the World Health Organization reports that 42% of females in South Africa aged 13-23 report being a victim of physical dating violence.[9]
Types of Dating Violence
The three main types of dating abuse are physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional/verbal/psychological abuse. Economic abuse and digital abuse are other common forms of dating abuse.
Physical abuse occurs when there is intentional unwanted contact with the victim by the abuser or an object the abuser is controlling. Physical abuse does not have to leave a mark or even cause pain. Examples of physical abuse include: punching, kicking, scratching, biting, throwing objects at the victim, pulling hair, choking, pushing and slapping.
Sexual abuse is unwanted sexual behavior that doesn’t allow the victim to say no. Examples of sexual violence include rape, unwanted kissing, touching, or violent sexual activity, and restricting access to birth control or protection against sexually transmitted infections.[10]
Verbal, emotional and psychological abuse are often grouped together and occur when the abuser makes comments to cause the victim to be afraid, lower the victim’s self-esteem, or control their emotions or behaviors. Verbal or emotional abuse can include: name-calling, screaming, controlling the victim, stalking, making the victim think they are causing the violence, threatening to harm the victim, exposing their secrets or threating to commit suicide in order to manipulate the victim.[11]
Economic abuse occurs when the abuser uses money as a way to control the victim. Economic abuse includes: using the victim’s credit card, stealing money, controlling money, not paying bills, ruining the victim’s credit, or making someone feel guilty about their financial situation.[12]
Digital abuse is becoming an increasingly common form of abuse and significantly affects teens because of their constant use of technology. Teens are often texting, talking on cell phones, instant messaging, emailing and blogging. As the use of technology increases so does the opportunity for abuse, including unwanted calls or texts, constant calling or texting, hacking into email or social networking accounts, or pressure to send private photos or videos. The Technology and Teen Dating Abuse Survey in 2007 found that one in three teens report receiving 10, 20, or 30 text messages an hour by a partner asking where they were, who they were with, or what they were doing. One in four teens in a relationship have been harassed, put down or called names by their partner through cell phones and texting. “Our research confirms that teens often don’t know how to connect the dots and recognize when controlling behavior becomes abuse,” said Esta Soler, president of the Family Violence Prevention Fund (now Futures without Violence).[13] See the section on Technology-Aided Stalking. (Provide link.)
Teen Dating Violence
Abuse is often hard for teens to recognize in a relationship because they do not have as much dating and relationship experience as adults. Therefore, many teens who experience abuse believe it is a normal part of a relationship. Physical abuse is usually the easiest form for teens to recognize, while others, especially digital abuse, can be much more difficult to identify.
Regardless of the type of abuse, dating abuse has long term effects on a teen's physical and mental health.[14] Violent relations put the victim at increased risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior, suicide, and further abuse.[15] Teen victims of dating violence have a higher chance of bringing a weapon to school and are three times as likely to get into a fight.[16] Physically abused teens are also three times more likely than non-abused teens to experience violence during college and be involved in intimate partner violence as adults.[17] From Teens who experience physical and sexual dating violence are three times more likely than those who are not abused to be diagnosed with HIV/AIDS or another sexually transmitted disease (STD). Their likelihood of contracting HIV or another STD increases because teens in violent relationships are less likely to suggest using a condom, seek HIV/AIDS information, get tested, disclose HIV status, or get help because they are afraid.[18]
Barriers to Getting Help
There are significant barriers that teens in abusive relationships face, especially if they are minors. Teens generally do not have the resources that adults have to leave abusive relationships, such as money, shelter, and transportation. They also may lack legal protection. In the U.S., eight states do not allow victims to apply for an order for protection against a dating partner.[19] Nine states prohibit minors from petitioning the court on their own behalf, and five states prohibit protective orders against other minors.[20] In the states which do provide legal protections for victims of dating violence, a desire for confidentiality and a lack of knowledge of the law stops many young victims from seeking help.
Parental lack of awareness is also an issue. While one in three adolescents experiences dating abuse of some form, 81% of parents believe teen dating violence is not an issue or admit that they don’t know if it is.[21]
Finally, there are many factors that cause people of all ages to stay in abusive dating relationships including: conflicting emotions (fear, believing the abuse is normal, low self-esteem, etc.), peer pressure or religious/cultural pressure, distrust of adults or authority, language barriers and immigration status, and reliance on the abusive partner.[22]
Teenage boys and girls can be both victims and perpetrators of dating violence. Boys and girls, however, behave differently when it comes to dating violence and are abusive in different ways. Girls often use less severe forms of violence, such as yelling, pinching, slapping, or kicking, while boys cause more serious and frequent injuries to girls.[23] Girls are at higher risk of having serious physical injuries and being sexually abused. Girls also suffer more psychological abuse and sexual aggression. Less severe acts such as pushing, grabbing and shoving were found to be common among both boys and girls in high school. Both boys and girls report experiencing minor assaults, but boys were found to abuse repeatedly and use more force. Girls were more likely to have physical injuries that needed medical attention.[24]
Prevention Programs
The U.S. has developed a number of intervention programs and initiatives to combat teen dating violence, including resources for teens, parents, and educators. Some of the available resources are listed below in Additional Resources.
Risk Factors for Abusers
Studies reveal that abusers have higher rates of depression, lower self-esteem, and are generally more aggressive. Risk factors include: alcohol or drug use, poor social skills, having multiple sexual partners, using threats to solve problems, and an inability to manage frustration. Additional risk factors unique to adolescents include problems at school, lack of parental supervision, and seeing abuse at home.[25]
Warning Signs
There are warning signs that can help victims recognize an abusive relationship before a serious physical attack occurs. Some of these warning signs include: extreme jealousy, possessiveness or controlling behavior, financial control, isolating a person from family and friends, constant name calling, and insults. A history of abusive behavior, mood swings, and explosive anger are red flags. Family and friends can also look for warning signs of dating abuse, including: physical injuries, poor grades, dropping out of school, changes in mood/personality, indecision, drug/alcohol use, and isolation.[26]
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Dating Violence
Dating violence affects lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) couples at the same rate as it affects heterosexual couples.[27] In most places domestic abuse in LGBTQ couples is underreported, and LGBTQ teens face even more obstacles when it comes to getting help. Concern over revealing their sexual identity to family and friends, especially for teens, can outweigh the desire to get help.[28] Abusers use this fear as a form of control, threatening to “out” the victim to their family and friends. Victims are also afraid that the police and counseling services may be homophobic or not take them seriously.[29] There are many myths about sexual orientation that make it hard for LGBTQ victims to recognize abuse. One of the most common myths is that same-sex couples cannot be abusive because they are more “equal” than heterosexual couples. People often think that a fight between two men is fair, and that women don’t hurt each other.[30] Additionally, LGBTQ abuse victims may face legal barriers to protection if the state they are residing in does not allow individuals in same-sex relationships to petition for orders for protection. For additional information, see the LGBTQ Domestic Violence section of this website.
Many CEE/FSU countries do not include dating violence in their domestic violence laws. The Moldovan Law on Preventing and Combating Violence in the Family applies only to “persons in a relationship of marriage, divorce, intimate cohabitation. . .”[31] It does not apply to individuals in dating relationships which do not involve cohabitation.
The Law on Protection against Domestic Violence (2005) in Bulgaria states the rights of victims of domestic violence to seek protection from the courts. The law defines domestic violence as “…any act of physical, mental or sexual violence, and any attempted such violence, as well as the forcible restriction of individual freedom and of privacy, carried out against individuals who have or have had family or kinship ties or cohabit or dwell in the same home.”[32] Those who have been abused by one of the following qualify for protection under this act: a spouse or former spouse, a person with whom the individual cohabits or cohabited, a person with whom that individual has a child, an ascendant, a descendent, a sibling, a relative by affinity up to the second degree, or a guardian or foster parent. A dating relationship does not qualify a person for protection.
In the Law of Georgia on Elimination of Domestic Violence, Protection of and Support to Its Victims, a victim is defined as a family member experiencing some form of abuse by another family member, who is the abuser.[33] Family members include former spouses, persons in non-registered cohabitation, as well as persons who live or lived together. A dating relationship does not qualify someone for protection. The same is true in Ukraine, which amended its law in 2008. Protection is provided for those “living as a family but not married to each other,”[34] but does not extend to dating relationships. For additional information, see the Country Pages of this website.
The Istanbul Convention, which opened for signature in May 2011, aims to combat violence against women and domestic violence throughout Europe but does not specifically address dating violence. The Convention does, however, define domestic violence to include acts of violence that occur between former or current “partners,” whether or not they share a residence,[35] which is broader in scope than the national laws noted above. As of June 2013, the Convention had been signed by 30 States and ratified by four (entry into force requires ten ratifications including eight Member States).[36]
United States:Break the Cycle published the State-By-State Teen Dating Violence Report Card 2010 (a new report card is due in 2013), in which it evaluated the protection and services available to teen victims of dating violence in each state. The three factors considered included: 1) access to civil orders for protection, 2) access to sensitive services (prenatal care, contraception, etc.), and 3) school response to dating. Seven states received a grade of A and nine states received failing grades. States that received A grades allow teen victims of domestic and dating violence easy access to protection orders, allow minors to consent to sensitive services, and provide for a school response to dating violence. Their definitions of types of abuse are also broader than those of states earning lower grades. For example, Illinois includes harassment, physical abuse, threatening or attempting to physically hurt the victim, creating a disturbance at school or work, repeatedly calling the victim, and stalking the victim. South Carolina, which received an F, defines abuse as physically abusing the victim, threatening or attempting to physically abuse the victim, or sexually abusing the victim, and excludes individuals in dating relationships (including same sex partners) from accessing orders for protection. The report provides recommendations for how each state can improve its response to victims of dating violence.

Additional Resources:
For U.S. statistics, efforts to combat violence against women, and resources, visit:
  • 1 is 2 Many is an initiative of the Obama White House to reduce violence against young women.
  •  Break the Cycle provides tools for young people to combat dating abuse.
  •  Love Is Respect is a collaboration of Break the Cycle and the National Dating Abuse Helpline. 
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website includes information on teen dating violence, including a list of hotlines and other resources.
For more information on prevention initiatives in the U.S., visit:
  • Start Strong takes a community-based approach to promote positive relationship behaviors among middle school students (ages 11–14).
  • Dating MattersTM Initiative of the CDC focuses on 11- to14-year-olds in four high-risk, urban communities, providing preventative strategies for individuals, peers, families, schools, and neighborhoods.
  • Respect Works is a comprehensive, best-practices model for educators to combat dating violence.
  • That’s Not Cool is a resource for adolescents, which includes discussion boards and digital materials to inform teens about electronic abuse, help them recognize what is and is not acceptable, and help them cope with digital harassment.  
For help in the U.S. or for tools to access help, visit:
  • Love Is Respect provides on-line chat, text, and phone support for victims of dating violence as well as family and friends of victims.
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline provides 24-hour support including advocacy, safety planning and resources.
  • Apps Against Abuse: Circle of 6 is an iPhone and Android app which allows text messaging to contact your circle of supporters, uses GPS for location, and connects victims to domestic violence organizations; On Watch is an iPhone and Android app which allows users to transmit critical information to their support network, check in, send GPS location information automatically, and connect to dating and domestic violence hotlines.

[1] Dating Violence 101,” Break the Cycle, accessed June 18, 2013,
[2] Ibid.
[3] Types of Abuse,” Love Is Respect, accessed June 23, 2013,  
[4] Fact Sheet: The Obama Administration’s Commitment to Combating Teen and Dating Violence(2012), accessed June 24, 2013,
[5] “Dating Abuse Statistics,” Love Is Respect, accessed June 23, 2013,
[6]Fifth & Pacific Companies, Inc. (formerly Liz Clairborne Inc.), 2011 College Dating Violence and Abuse Poll (2011), accessed June 24, 2013,  
[7] “Who We Are,” Break the Cycle, accessed June 24, 2013,
[8] Leen, Eline et al., “Prevalence, Dynamic Risk Factors and the Efficacy of Primary Interventions for Adolescent Dating Violence: An International Review,”18 Aggression and Violent Behavior 159 (2013).
[9] World Health Organization, Violence Against Women: Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Against Women, Fact Sheet No. 239 (2012), accessed August 6, 2013,
[10] Dating Violence 101,” Break the Cycle, accessed June 27, 2013,  
[11] Ibid.
[12] Dating Violence,” Brown University Health Education, accessed June 27, 2013,  
[13] That’s Not Cool,” Futures without Violence, accessed June 28, 2013,
[14] Teen Dating Violence,” Center for Disease Control and Prevention, last accessed June 28, 2013,
[15]Dating Abuse Statistics,” Love Is Respect, last accessed June 27, 2013,
[16] Break the Cycle, 2010 State Law Report Cards: A National Survey of Teen Dating Violence Laws (2010) (an updated report is expected in 2013), accessed June 28, 2013,
[19] Break the Cycle, 2010 State Law Report Cards: A National Survey of Teen Dating Violence Laws (2010) (an updated report is expected in 2013), accessed June 28, 2013,
[20] Ibid.
[21] “Dating Abuse Statistics,” Love Is Respect, last accessed June 27, 2013,
[24] Cohall, A. et al., Love Shouldn’t Hurt: Strategies for Health Care Providers to Address Adolescent Dating Violence,” 54 J. Am. Med. Women’s Assoc. 144 (1999).
[25] Teen Dating Violence,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed June 27, 2013,  
[26] Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, Protecting Children: Safety Planning Strategies for Children, Youth, & Teens, 13 (2012), accessed August 6, 2013 18D8E75C-9901-4E0B-84EA-982FEC965FA4/protect-your-children-safety-session.pdf.
[27] “LGBTQ Abusive Relationships,”Love Is Respect, accessed June 27, 2013,  
[28]Dating Violence in LGBTQ Communities,” Brown University Health Education, accessed June 27, 2013, dating_violence_in_LGBTQ_communities.php; “For LGBTQ,”Break the Cycle, accessed June 27, 2013,  
[29] Ibid.
[30] Ibid.
[31] Law on Preventing and Combating Family Violence, 54-XVI, 1 Mar. 2007, entry into force 18 Sept. 2008, Official Monitor No. 55-56/178. Accessed June 28, 2013,
[32] Protection against Domestic Violence Act, promulgated, State Gazette, issue 27, 29 Mar. 2005. Accessed June 28, 2013,
[33] Law on Elimination of Domestic Violence, Protection of and Support to Its Victims (2008). Accessed June 28, 2013,
[34] Law of Ukraine on Amending Certain Legislative Acts of Ukraine Concerning Improvement of Legislation Combating Domestic Violence (2008). Accessed July 2, 2013,
[35] Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, opened for signature 11 May 2011. Accessed July 2, 2013,
[36] Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, CETS No.: 210, Council of Europe, accessed July 2, 2013,