Please note: Entries within this blog may contain references to instances of domestic abuse, dating abuse, sexual assault, abuse or harassment. At all times, Break the Cycle encourages readers to take whatever precautions necessary to protect themselves emotionally and psychologically.  If you would like to speak with an advocate, please contact a 24/7 peer advocate at 866-331-9474  or text "loveis" to 22522.

How Legal Services Help Dating Abuse Victims

One in three young people experience physical, sexual, or emotional abuse from a dating partner. This is an epidemic. Despite the urgency of this issue, survivors between the ages of 12-18 often have limited access to legal protections, including civil protection orders or restraining orders.

For example, the law may not allow a minor survivor to file on his or her behalf for these protections and the court may require that the non-abusing parent or caregiver of that young person file for them. Restrictive laws that deny young people certain legal protections can severely compromise survivor safety. If a minor doesn’t have access to a protection order, their abuser can continue to stalk, harass and threaten them, putting their lives in danger. Another challenge in providing services and information to young people is that these laws vary from state to state.

How are we helping? Break the Cycle’s Legal Services Program staff conduct legal and counseling services, youth education, and training for law enforcement, attorneys and other legal advocates. Annually, our legal team provides approximately 1,200 hours of comprehensive legal services for 100 young victims of dating violence and sexual assault in the Washington, DC area. Break the Cycle works with young people ages 12 to 24, explaining their legal options, as well as disadvantages, and offer personalized, dynamic safety planning.

Our team drafts and files petitions and motions for legal relief, such as protection orders, and attends criminal hearings and trials. We also represent clients in all matters related to divorce, custody or child support, economic security, physical safety, employment, and housing. If survivors need to meet with police or prosecutors to report the abuse, we help. Plus, we assist in criminal prosecution of the abuser if the client decides to take part in the criminal justice system. Without this important assistance, many young survivors would not have access to the vital legal protections that they need. 

Break the Cycle also supports young survivors of dating abuse by building the capacity of other domestic violence and sexual assault organizations who serve young victims of abuse. Break the Cycle has been a federal technical assistance provider for the U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women since 2007, working directly with legal service providers to train them on how to provide responsive and holistic services for youth clients.  

Developing youth-oriented state legislation is critical to protecting victims and ending abuse. We’ve witnessed first-hand what a difference it can make in a survivor’s life when they have the law on their side. For more on how you can advocate for policy changes in your state, visit teendvmonth.org