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February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month: It’s Not Just Drama

Op/Ed By Allison O’Malley,
Executive Director, RESOLVE of Greater Rochester (


female%20silhouetteSeveral weeks ago, our community was shocked by news of a double murder-suicide on a local college campus. The story was a devastating example of teen-dating violence.

February is teen dating violence awareness month.

While teen-dating violence is similar to intimate-partner violence in adults, it has the potential to be more dangerous, because teens and young adults lack relationship experience, and resources.

And, like the case in Geneseo demonstrated, they can have great difficulty regulating emotions and impulses.

In addition, teens and young adults often fail to recognize danger, or believe they can handle it, and get in over their heads very quickly.

While those who knew the couple in Geneseo said they had a normal relationship before the break up, the incident bore the hallmark of teen dating violence: one partner’s desire to control the other.

Power and control in teen relationships is often masked as devotion, or true love, and can be difficult to detect.

FullSizeRender-5Caring adults can make the mistake of minimizing teen-dating violence as drama, but it is important to pay attention. Teen dating is, in fact, a rite of passage; an important developmental milestone, from which young people begin to establish their identity.

Exciting and terrifying, it is at once an expression of independence – an act of separation from family – coupled with the yearning to be connected. In these relationships, teens see themselves through the eyes of another, and experience a deep emotional, spiritual, and physical connection that is new for them.

And, like all things in the world of teens, it can be very intense. Romantic ideas about love can prevail, and be fueled by raging hormones.

While drama, and on-again, off-again relationships in all realms are common for teens, adults are encouraged to watch carefully for cues like fear, rising anxiety, or depression after interactions (like text messages or parties), or withdrawal from activities, or long time friends attributed to their dating partner, which could indicate the presence of violence and abuse.

For over a decade, research has demonstrated that violence in early intimate relationships has long term consequences that can include the obvious unplanned pregnancy and STDs, but also can be correlated to eating disorders, substance abuse, risky sexual behaviors, suicide, higher rates of domestic violence in adulthood (Silverman, et. al, JAMA. 2001), and poor academic achievement or withdrawal from school.

It is important that parents, teachers, youth mentors, and other adults involved with young people know how to identify, and safely intervene, with teens that may be in trouble.

Teen Dating Violence statistics are alarming.

FullSizeRender-3 (2)In the United States, teens between the ages of 12-19 are at the highest risk to experience sexual assault in dating relationships (Davis, et al., 2008). One-in-ten high school students report being punched, slapped, or physically hurt by a dating partner on purpose (Grunbaum, et al, 2004); and one-in-three adolescent girls is a victim of physical, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner (Dept of Justice 2006).

Forty-three percent of college students report abuse in dating relationships too, and 57 percent say they don’t know how to recognize it (College DV Poll, 2010).

These figures far exceed victimization rates for other types of violence affecting youth, and yet the issue is largely ignored.

Being informed about teen dating violence is the start. Go to, or, to learn more.

To keep young people safe, we must stop dismissing teen behavior as drama, and using romantic notions to justify violent or abusive behavior. Despite popular belief, love is never justification for murder.

Allison O’Malley is the executive director of RESOLVE of Greater Rochester, the organization empowering people and communities to break the cycles of intimate partner violence. She is also a survivor of teen dating violence, and is passionate about protecting youth.

If you or anyone your know is facing dating or domestic violence please call RESOLVE at 585.425.1580, Willow Center 585.222.SAFE (7233) , or The National Domestic Violence Hotline 800.799.SAFE (7233).

Respect Week is Feb. 8-12, share what you’re doing on social media using the hashtag #RespectWeek2016.

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