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About teen dating violence
The experience of domestic violence is very similar for teens as it is for adults. However, the fact that they are teenagers can raise unique issues, making them struggle even more with recognizing and escaping abusive relationships.
Adolescents are particularly susceptible to becoming trapped in the cycle of violence. They are at a very volatile and vulnerable developmental stage, experiencing many physiological, emotional and intellectual changes and struggling with issues of identity formation and self-esteem. No longer children but not yet adults, teenagers are beginning to form their first intimate relationships, yet often do not have the experience, confidence or information to know what is healthy or unhealthy in a relationship.
Although violence is widespread in the teen population, and young people are often particularly at risk for abuse in dating relationships, there are limited services specifically intended for adolescents. The vast majority of resources are either child abuse services geared toward young children or domestic violence services focused on adult victims.
In addition to this lack of services, teens face other obstacles to seeking help. They often do not have access to shelter, money or transportation. They must overcome issues such as distrust of adults, lack of knowledge about available resources, or pressure from peers and parents.
Confusion about the law adds another layer of difficulty for young people in need. Often teens will not reach out for help because they do not know their rights. They also have fears about lack of confidentiality, mandated child abuse reporting and parental consent laws. In fact, a needs assessment on teen relationship abuse for the state of California, funded by the California Department of Health Services, identified a desire for confidentiality and confusion about the law as two of the most significant barriers to young victims of domestic violence seeking help. In addition, social service agencies frequently do not provide services to minors because of concerns about legal liability.
Left untreated, the epidemic of domestic violence among youth will carry into their adult lives. Young people who cannot access help now for issues of domestic violence will find it difficult or impossible, as adults, to change a pattern of abuse that has been occurring for years or decades.
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