My 13-year-old daughter hasn’t expressed any interest in dating yet, but there are still some things she needs to know… not only if she decides to date and experiences violence herself, but also because all people should have this information so that we can change the way we, as a society, respond to survivors coming forward.
Here are 10 things I am telling my daughter about abuse and dating violence:
1. Anyone can be abusive
People who abuse others aren’t necessarily abusive in all their relationships. They might be the nicest person to their friends, but still hurt their partners. They might have been kind to all their ex-girlfriends but still attempt to control their current partner. Their past and current relationships, standing in the community or even the fact that they volunteer once a week at a local homeless shelter does not necessarily mean that they can’t be abusers. All of the people who I have known to be abusive weren’t that way with everyone. It often only happened behind closed doors, and to the outside world they appeared to be good people.
2. Abuse isn’t just physical.
There are many ways to be abused. Calling names, threatening, gaslighting and controlling are only a few examples of other ways a person may be abusive. There is not a hierarchy to abuse, either; physical violence is not anymore damaging than other types of violence. A person doesn’t have to hit you for it to be abuse.
3. You’ll hear talk about red flags, and while these things are usually good things to look out for, knowing what you feel comfortable with and how to set healthy boundaries for yourself is more important.
Pay attention when you feel uneasy about something. Do your best to set healthy boundaries for yourself. Boundaries are the best tools to keep us safe, in healthy relationships.
4. If a person fails to set boundaries and ends up being abused, the abuse still isn’t their fault.
Although boundaries are important, the responsibility for abuse always falls on the abuser. We should never ask people who have been abused why they didn’t protect themselves better. We should never think that just because we have the tools we need to have healthy relationships that we are safe from abuse.
5. Dating violence can happen to anyone.
Even people with high self-esteem and healthy boundaries. Abuse can catch anyone off guard. It can happen to grown women, as well as teens. And it can happen to men.
6. Dating violence is abuse.
People do not need to be living together, or even be in a monogamous relationship, for abuse to occur.
7. Stalking is violence.
Even if the person never makes threats, being followed, watched and forced to engage — online or off — can make a person feel unsafe.
8. Even if you’ve never dated the person, they can stalk and harass you.
And it is definitely not romantic for a guy to persist in asking a woman out after she has said no. I know that many movies have promoted this narrative, but this is stalking and it’s not OK.
9. There’s no shame in staying
Never feel pressure to break up with someone who is hurting you, if you don’t feel safe doing so. And don’t pressure a friend to leave if they’re experiencing abuse. Just offer to be there how ever they need, whether it’s help with leaving, or help with staying safe despite staying. Focus on making the situation as safe as possible until your friend is ready to leave.
And most importantly,
10. Believe survivors when they tell their stories.
If someone tells you that they are being abused, believe them and support them. It’s highly unlikely that they are lying, given that disclosing abuse usually doesn’t carry any social benefit. Instead of being believed and supported, most people — usually women — who disclose abuse are accused of lying, or blamed for what happened to them. Do not join in. Offer support and, if you feel safe doing so, stand up and publicly announce that you believe them.
If you’re a teen in a violent relationship, help is out there. Call the Love Is Respect hotline 1-866-331-9474 or text LOVEIS to 22522.