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About 20 percent of high school girls have reported being physically or sexually abused by a dating partner

Date: 2007-06-05

Jean Crinan, executive director of the Mt. Graham Safe House domestic violence shelter, said the level of local teen dating violence mirrors the state’s statistics, although exact numbers were not readily available.

Statistics from the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence state approximately one in five female high school students reported being abused physically, sexually or both by a dating partner. The resource center also reports that victims of dating violence are likely to exhibit other serious health risk behaviors.

Girls, however, are not the only victims, according to the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

“In 95 percent of abusive relationships, men abuse women. However, young women can be violent, and young men can also be victims,” said Christy Moore, the coalition’s executive director, in a written response to questions from the Courier.

Pam Hume, coordinator for Safford’s Victim/Witness Program, said teen dating violence often occurs when one or both of the teenagers are from a home where violence has been modeled by the parents or other adults.

“Our families are at war,” Hume said. “Kids in our domestic violence families go on to be bullies.”

Numerous studies show that abuse in teen dating relationships is common and even considered normal by many young people. The problem exists across lines of race, socio-economic status, religion, sexual orientation and disability in urban, suburban and rural communities, according to the resource center.

In Arizona, dating violence can happen to teens from all types of homes, backgrounds and income levels, according to the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

“Teenagers may in fact be predisposed to accept physical violence because they have been exposed to it in our culture and in the media,” a coalition report states.

Capt. Dennis Whisman of the Safford Police Department said the department receives few calls on dating violence involving teenagers. When a call is received, however, it is viewed as equally seriousas other calls about violent attacks.

Perpetrators younger than 18 are treated as juveniles, and the police must go through the Juvenile Probation Department to incarcerate the teen.

A victim may be reluctant to report the assault if drugs are involved — especially if the abuser is supplying the victim with drugs, Whis-man said.

Crinan said local help is available through classes at area high schools taught by Mt. Graham Safe House educators and through Southeast Arizona Behav-ioral Health Services. She said the annual Teen Fair also provides local teenagers with information about abusive relationships.

Moore said parents or other adults can help by talking with the teenager about her life and listening with an open mind. Parents should be supportive as their teen decides what to do.

Opening clear channels of communication and remaining calm will help the teenager.

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered teens are also at risk for abuse in their relationships, Moore said.

The coalition offered the following clues that a teenager may be experiencing dating violence or date rape:

  • Bruises or other signs of injury: Victims will often attempt to hide their injuries. Be alert to sudden changes in dress or makeup.

  • Truancy, failing, withdrawal from activities or dropping out of school: An abusive relationship drains the victim of energy. his or her remaining energy is often spent trying to make things right for the abuser.

  • Sudden or increased social isolation: Because of shame or jealous accusations from the abuser, a victim will withdraw from friends and become increasingly isolated.

  • Sudden changes in mood or personality: Changes may include depression, withdrawal, acting out, secretiveness, insecurity, anxiety or preoccupation with the abuser, crying easily or overreacting to minor incidents.

  • Use of alcohol or drugs: This may be in response to direct pressure from the abuser, an attempt to numb the pain or emotional ambivalence about the relationship.

  • Pregnancy: Many teen-age girls think pregnancy will help them get out of a bad situation; however, more than 70 percent of pregnant or parenting teen girls are beaten by their boyfriends.

    The coalition also listed these warning signs of perpetrators:

  • Alcohol or drug use

  • Possessive or jealous behavior toward girlfriend or boyfriend

  • Involvement with younger girls or boys

  • Harasses or threatens teen partners

  • Threatens suicide to manipulate the victim

  • Fights with others over girlfriend or boyfriend

  • History of violent relationships

  • Uses verbal abuse as a means of control

  • Isolates victim from friends and family

    There are resources available for teenage victims seeking help. For example, is the online home of the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline, a free and confidential resource. Trained advocates are available around the clock, seven days a week, to offer support and connect victims to resources, Moore said.

    Victims may also call 866-331-9474 or TTY 866-331-8453. The helpline is also a resource for abusers who realize they need help, Moore said.

    Teens may also contact the Mt. Graham Safe House at 348-9104 or toll-free at 888-269-9104 for a referral to local services.

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