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Unhealthy relationships often start early. Especially in their first few relationships, teens may not know what behaviors are healthy or unhealthy. Activities such as teasing or checking a partner’s cell phone are often thought of as “normal” parts of a relationship, but these behaviors build and set the stage for more serious emotional abuse or violence. Teenage dating violence is just as serious as adult domestic violence, especially because it often starts a pattern of abuse or victimization that lasts a lifetime. The severity of intimate partner violence in adulthood is often greater in cases where the pattern of abuse was established in adolescence.


Youth receive messages about how to behave in relationships from peers, adults in their lives, and the media.  All too often these examples suggest violence and control in a relationship is okay. These examples also promote early sexual activity and promiscuity. However, most teenagers don’t fully understand what constitutes sexual assault or know about consent laws, leading to an increased risk of sexual abuse as well as risky sexual behaviors.


Without healthy role models or education, teenagers are at a serious risk for an unhealthy relationship because they are still in the process of learning what their boundaries are, how to communicate in a relationship, and how to identify controlling and abusive behavior.  Teenagers are also seeking control in their life, and often act this out through bullying in earlier grades and dating violence as they get older. Both behaviors are often "about establishing dominance," she says. The results suggest there is a "violence trajectory" and "if it's not addressed, it will escalate." Simply put—bullying leads to dating violence leads to domestic violence.


Because teenagers are still developing emotionally and cognitively, they are heavily influenced by relationship experiences. Unhealthy or abusive relationships can cause short and long-term negative effects on development.  Victims of teen dating violence are more likely to do poorly in school, and report binge drinking, suicide attempts, and physical fighting. They are at higher risk for substance abuse and eating disorders as well. Teens who are abusive or are abused are likely to carry the patterns of violence into future relationships.


With increased use of technology, dating violence often involves cyber-bullying or stalking as means of control.  Controlling behavior can start as simple as texting a lot during the day—even if this seems normal teenage behavior at first, it can turn into using text messages to monitor their partner and control who they spend their time with. 


Teens who are controlling are also likely to start reading their partner’s texts and going through their phone, and to send threats over text.  Teenagers are also more likely to engage in sexting—sending inappropriate pictures messages.  This isn’t necessarily unhealthy, but can be a means of abuse—either the abuser sending and forcing their partner to look at images, or coercing the victim into sending photos or messages that could be shared or used as a threat.


  • Sexting can have legal consequences. Any nude photos or video of someone under 18 could be considered child pornography, which is always illegal. Even if whoever sent the image did so willingly, the recipient can still get in a lot of trouble.


Some states still do not include dating relationships in their definition of domestic violence, leaving young victims at risk because they cannot apply for protection orders or become confused about their legal recourses. In Alaska, teenagers may be able to get an protective order against an abuser who is a minor, but only because the law isn’t very specific—depending on the judge, they may or may not be able to and teenagers may or may not be able to file without an adult present.


Teenagers may also have increased difficulty or danger in leaving an abusive partner because it is likely that they will still be going to school with their partner and have to see them every day. They also may not have as many options for safe social groups to provide distance outside of school from their abuser. Safety plans for teens should incorporate a section on school safety planning.


Over eighty percent of parents believe teen dating violence is not an issue or admit they don’t know if it’s an issue. So how prevalent is it? Nationwide surveys in 2011-2013 found that it is much more common than adults might think:


  • Abuse is found in over a third of all high school relationships, far exceeding the rates of other types of youth violence. About 72% of eight and ninth graders are “dating.”


  • Ten percent of high school students reported being hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose by their partner in the past twelve months—that’s nearly 1.5 million students nationwide experiencing physical abuse in a single year.


  • About a third of high-schools, girls and boys, said they had abused a partner. Unlike the available research for adult domestic violence, teen dating violence is more likely to be perpetrated by both males and females.


  • When girls are perpetrators, it tends to be low-level behaviors (light hitting, name calling, etc) whereas boys are more likely aggressors of serious sexual and physical assault.


  • About a quarter of all high school students, female and male, said they had been both victims and abusers, either in the same or different relationship.


  • Teens who were middle-school bullies were seven times more likely to be abusive in high school relationships.


  • Violent behavior typically begins between the ages of 12 and 18.


  • Being physically or sexually abused makes teen girls six times more likely to become pregnant and twice as likely to get a sexually transmitted infection. 


  • Half of youth who have been victims of both dating violence and rape attempt suicide, compared to 12.5% of non-abused girls and 5.4% of non-abused boys.


  • Approximately 70% of college students say they have been sexually coerced.


  • Dating violence happens in straight and LGBTQ relationships.


  • Only a third of teens who were in violent relationships ever told anyone about the abuse.


  • Though victimization may be fairly equal between teenage girls and boys, over 90% of calls from abuse victims to the national youth dating hotline (1-866-331-9474, were female. Teenager boys already seem to have a stigma about reaching out as a victim.


  • Girls and young women between 16 and 24 years of age experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence—almost triple the national average.


  • Female victims of teen dating violence have less education and lower earnings later in life.


  • Studies show a “chronic victimization pathway”—teens who experience dating violence are two-three times more likely to be revictimized as young adults.


  • Nearly 20 percent of both boys and girls reported themselves as victims of physical and sexual abuse in dating relationships — but the researchers reported what they called a startling finding when they asked about psychological abuse, broadly defined as actions ranging from name-calling to excessive tracking of a victim. More than 60 percent of each gender reported being victims and perpetrators of such behavior.


Teen dating violence is serious and has many short and longterm consequences for both victims and perpetrators. It is critical to educate youth on abusive red flags, sexual assault, and consent so they have the skills to make their first relationship happy and healthy.


  • Educate yourself about the warning signs of dating violence, so you can help yourself, a friend, or a youth in your life (see teen power and control wheel at top of page).



  • Help raise awareness about the issue among your circle.


  • Be a supportive friend or safe adult—say something about unhealthy or abusive signs when you see it. There are many reasons why teenagers may not be able to leave a relationship, but having someone supporting them and promoting their safety is very important!


  • Get political—bring up this issue with friends, neighbors, the local school board, city counsel, or with state legislators. Let them know it is important, and that Alaska needs.


  • Connect with SAFV’s prevention programs and support our work in the schools and community to stop teen dating violence. Email for more information.


It is important to add in safety planning sections on school and online safety for teenagers in abuse dating relationships. You can use this Safety Plan from Love is Respect as a comprehensive plan for teenagers, or consider adding in these questions when you work with a teenager to plan for their safety.


  • What is the safest way for me to get to and from school (if I do/do not need to avoid my partner)? If I need to leave school in an emergency, what can I do?


  • What can I do to feel safe during lunch or free periods at school? What are areas on campus where I feel safe?


  • Who can I talk to if I need to rearrange my schedule to avoid my abuser, or if I need help staying safe at school? (examples: counselor, principal, coach, specific teachers, etc)


  •  Can I hang out with a different social group at school than my abuser?


  • Which friends will help me if I feel uncomfortable in a situation, no questions asked?


  • Have I shared my passwords with my abuser? Do they have any sexual images or texts from me?


  • Has my partner ever pretended to be me online, or insulted or threatened me online? If the answer to either of these is yes, I may be at greater risk for online abuse or stalking. I can: 

    • Set all my online profiles to be as private as they can be. 

    • Keep track of any abusive, threatening, or harassing comments, posts, or texts.

    • Keep my passwords secret or change usernames and emails if I need to.


Do you know the legal definition of sexual assault or consent?  Without knowing this, you are at risk of getting into a dangerous and unhealthy situation, either as a victim or a perpetrator. Teenage relationships have high rates of sexual assault, which can be especially traumatizing if it is someone’s first sexual experience.


Teenagers do not have to go through this alone. If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, find out more about your rights and resources on SAFV's Sexual Assault page, and you can contact the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) through SAFV (907-747-3370).


Sexual assault is legally defined as: Any sexual contact (both over and under clothes, external or penetrative), gained through force, threat (physical or emotional harm to yourself or others), manipulation (brainwashing or guilt-tripping), tickery (using alcohol, drugs, or fake online profiles to gain unwarranted trust), or cohersion (blackmail, even if the victim hasn't done anything illegal). 

In order for someone to give consent to participating in sexual activitity of any kind, there are four requirements that must be present: 

VOLUNTEERED: Consent must be given freely. Consent cannot be coerced, manipulated, gained through force or threat, or based on fear or trickery.


ACTIVE: Consent must be present at every point and can be taken away at any point. Consent is required every time and for each sexual act. It must include verbal communication, not just body language -- there must be a present “yes,” not just the absence of a “no.”


AWARE: Based on knowing fully what’s going on and being able to make informed decisions. Not asleep, drunk, otherwise mentally impaired.


AGE (for Alaska law): In Alaska, the age of consent is 16. At that age, the state has determined anyone can legally consent to sexual activity (contact or penetration) with a person older than them, as long as that person is not in a position of authority (teacher, coach, youth group leader, anyone in uniform, etc). If the older person is in a position of authority, sexual activity is not legal until the younger person is 18. In Alaska, no sexual activity is legal below the age of 13. Between the ages of 13-15, a person can consent as long as the older partner is no more than 4 years older and does not occupy a position of authority. 


Any sexual assault of a minor (unwanted contact or penetration) must be reported to the Office of Children's Services. For more information on reporting the sexual assault of a minor, visit our Report Abuse page.


All state crisis lines and national numbers are available 24/7. They are confidential unless you share mandatory reporting information, and provide support and resources for victims, family, and friends.


  • LOVE IS RESPECT ( provides online support for 13-18-year-olds. In addition to great information and relationship quizzes, teens can log in and get help from trained peer advocates in a one-on-one private chat room or access support through text (‘loveis’ to 22522) or a 24/7 hour hotline (866-331-9474).

  • Sitkans Against Family Violence (SAFV)

    • Crisis line: 907-747-6511 or 1-800-478-6511, Shelter: 907-747-3370,

  • Standing Together Against Rape (STAR), Alaska: Crisis support and reporting options. 

  • Careline Crisis Line, Alaska: Crisis intervention, specifically for depression or suicide.

    • 1-877-266-HELP (4357),, text “4help” to 839863 Tuesday through Saturday from 3-11pm

  • Identity LGBT Helpline, Alaska: LGBT information, referrals, and crisis intervention. 

    • 907-258-4777 or 888-901-9876, ONLY 6-11 pm, seven days a week

  • National Sexual Assault Hotline: Crisis support, reporting options, and direction to local resources

    • 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), (Rape, Incest, & Abuse National Network

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: Crisis support, protective service options, and direction to local resources.

  • GLBT National Youth Talkline: Peer-counseling, information, and direction to local resources

  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline: Crisis support for depression and suicide.

    • 1-800-273-TALK (8255)                


  • Information, resources, and connection to action organizations.

  • Action site for Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.

  • Action site for ending domestic violence and sexual assault.

  • Alaska leadership opportunities, information, and action site.

  • Resources, blog, and message board about sexual activity, reproductive health, consent and assault, and sexual orientation

  • Resource and actions to identify, respond to & stop digital abuse

  • Information and prevention resources on cyber bullying

  • Peer activism site and training for online safety

Check out this PSA teens created for the Stand Up Speak Up campaign. Stand Up Speak Up is led by Alaska teens promoting respectful relationships, being a leader in their schools and communities, and ending violence.  To learn more, visit the Stand Up Speak Up website.

Talk Now Talk Often AK is a statewide effort developed by parents and caregivers like you to help increase conversations with teens around healthy relationships. As parents you have a unique opportunity to connect with your kids and begin fostering healthy relationship conversations and skills that can be carried into adulthood. Here are a series of conversation cards for parents that focus on strengthening relationships and connections between youth and adults.

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