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Teen dating violence carries grim effects

Prom season can create a lifetime of memories, but many teenagers suffer experiences that carry a lifetime of consequences.

Teen dating violence in Indiana consistently is higher than national averages. Fifteen percent of female high school students report being raped on a date – the second highest rate in the nation.

In 2009, nearly 11 percent of female high school students reported being hit, slapped or physically hurt by their date, again higher than the U.S. average. In addition, 12 percent of high school males reported being victimized by the person they were dating.

According to a Cornell University study, young women who endured dating violence as teens are more likely to suffer depression, have suicidal thoughts and engage in binge drinking. Young men also are more likely to be suicidal, abuse drugs and engage in delinquent behaviors if they suffered teen dating violence.

The Cornell study also found that teens who are abused or assaulted during a date are two to three times more likely to be victims of dating violence as adults.

“Adolescence is a time when teens start to date and learn about healthy relationships,” said Cornell’s Deinera Exner-Cortens. “So when their earliest dating experiences are unhealthy, it may negatively affect a teen’s view of what a healthy dating relationship looks like.”

The Indiana Coalition Against Sexual Assault says dating violence warning signs include physical injury; truancy; falling grades; changes in mood, including an increase in emotional outbursts, drug and alcohol abuse; and not spending time with friends without “permission” from the teen they are dating.

Extreme jealousy, unpredictable mood swings, use of force during an argument, cruelty to animals and children, online bullying and threats of violence are additional controlling and violent behaviors of which teens should be aware.

Teens can find local services and assistance by calling 1-800-656-HOPE.

Most importantly, Exner-Cortens said, adults need to model and discuss healthy relationships, including qualities such as respect, safety, support, honesty, good communication and equality. These discussions, she says, should start in middle school, before children begin dating.

“By doing that, kids will know that the parent is someone they can go to for help if they start to feel concerned or worried about a relationship that they’re in,” she said.

State law requires schools to teach students about healthy dating relationships, and community organizations also can influence healthy dating behaviors. The Indiana Attorney General’s office hosts the Indiana Safe Student Initiative, providing training to teachers and youth workers about how to talk with teens about healthy relationships and preventing dating violence.

As prom season approaches, we need to model healthy behavior and help teens stay safe in their dating relationships now and for their futures.

Bill Stanczykiewicz is president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. He wrote this for Indiana newspapers.