Dating Danger: How to Recognize It and How to Help

According to a CDC survey, nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner each year.

According to a CDC survey, nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner each year. Girls between the ages of 16 and 24 are three times more likely to be abused by the person they are dating.

If those numbers aren’t alarming enough, consider this: Only one-third of those victims will confide in someone about the abuse, which means the violence often goes unreported. Sadly, these abusive relationships can have devastating consequences for the victims beyond the initial physical violence, resulting in:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Substance abuse
  • Eating disorders
  • Thoughts of suicide

Who is at Risk?

Teens who have seen violent and abusive relationships at home are most at risk of being victims themselves. Sue Jones, Executive Director of FOCUS, said, “As teens develop emotionally, they are heavily influenced by experiences in their relationships. Healthy relationship behaviors can have a positive effect on a teen’s emotional development. Unhealthy, abusive, or violent relationships can have severe consequences and short- and longterm negative effects on a developing teen.” She added, “Teens receive messages about how to behave in relationships from peers, adults in their lives, and the media. All too often, these examples suggest that violence in a relationship is normal, but violence is never acceptable.” The bottom line? Parents have a responsibility to make sure they are modeling healthy relationships at home.

Signs of Abuse

Parents, teachers, counselors, and friends should watch for these warning signs that a teen may be involved in an abusive relationship:

  • Suspicious bruises or other unexplained injuries
  • Failing grades
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies they once enjoyed
  • Excusing their dating partner’s negative behavior
  • Needing to respond immediately to calls or texts from their partner
  • Fearfulness around their partner

Red Flag: Having a dating partner who is significantly (3+ years) older than the teen is a risk factor for experiencing forced sex.

On the other hand, the following signs may suggest that a teen is, or is at risk of, perpetrating dating violence:

  • Insulting their partner
  • Trying to control how their partner dresses and acts
  • Constantly texting to monitor their partner
  • Losing their temper and being unable to control their anger
  • Threatening to hurt themselves or their partner in the case of a break-up

“Communicating with your partner, managing uncomfortable emotions like anger and jealousy, and treating others with respect are a few ways to keep relationships healthy and nonviolent.” – Sue C. Jones, B.S, M.Ed., FOCUS Executive Director.

Getting Help

If you or someone you care about is a victim of dating violence (or if you’re a perpetrator of dating violence and want to stop), there is help available! Sue recommends going to an adult you can trust. If that is not an option, or if you need additional help, you can:

Go to

Call the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline at 1-866-331-9474.

Text “loveis” to 22522.

Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

Did You Know? Some states do not consider a violent dating relationship to be domestic abuse, which means those victims are unable to apply for a restraining order against their abusers. In Alabama, in order to qualify for a protection order, the abuser must be someone:

  • You live with or used to live with
  • You have a child with
  • You are married to or used to be married to
  • In your immediate family
  • In your extended family (related to the 6th degree)

FOCUS addresses adolescent risk behaviors and has grown into one of the most recognized prevention programs in the State of Alabama. If you would like more information on FOCUS, please visit and/or contact Sue Jones, M. Ed., program director via email, or directly at (256) 453-0655.

Co-Founder | FOCUS

Sue Jones, M.Ed., graduated from the University of North Alabama and Jacksonville State University. She is Co-Founder and Executive Director of FOCUS. Sue has worked with schools in all 67 counties implementing and promoting FOCUS. Contact her at and visit for more information on FOCUS.

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