From prom season to football season, students everywhere in middle and high school are navigating love, dating and relationships. Yet for all the relationships that are safe and healthy, one in five female high school students and one in 10 male high school students who date have been affected by some form of dating violence, with one out of 10 students experiencing some form of physical violence. From physical and sexual abuse to verbal and emotional, digital, and financial abuse, dating violence encompasses a wide range of unhealthy and abusive actions used to exert power and control over another person.
One of the best methods for deterring abuse is for teachers to understand what dating violence looks like, how they can take action to prevent it and how to help their students who are experiencing abuse. Interested in what that may look like? Here’s a short guide for teachers on best practices so they can best support their students:
- If a student comes to you about an unhealthy or abusive relationship, you need to make the school’s confidentiality and reporting requirements extremely clear. This is for everyone’s safety and protection, including you.
- Listen without interrupting. Thank them for trusting you with this information. They’ll likely be confused about how they feel and what to do, and may even change their mind while talking to you.
- Do not judge. Dating abuse can happen to anyone, no matter their age, race, gender identity, cultural background, religion or socioeconomic status. Also, remember not to assume the gender-identity or sexuality of the person demonstrating abusive behaviors.
- Watch how the student interacts with you and respect their body language. Listen to what they say and how they say it and replicate their tone.
- Listen to them and talk about their choices without offering your personal opinion of the situation. Empower the student to make the best decision for their well-being and safety.
- Asking unnecessary questions could make them shut down or feel like they’re being interrogated, even if your questions are well-meaning. For example, “Why didn’t you…” or “why don’t you…” can come off as confrontational.
- Don’t go to the person committing the abuse, even if they’re also a student of yours. This could increase the risk that they’ll lash out or do more harm to the student who made the report to you. It may also put you in danger!
- If the student experiencing abuse feels it’s best to stay with their partner, be supportive about their choice. This can often be hard for people to understand, but there are many reasons why someone might stay with a partner demonstrating abusive behaviors, whether it’s fear, shame, guilt, low self-esteem, lack of financial independence, children, or something else.
- What the survivor is telling you should be treated as confidential. Do not gossip about it, even in places where you think other students cannot hear you. Word could get back to the student perpetuating the abuse, which could put the reporting student in a more dangerous place than before. If you need support or information, visit loveisrespect.org or go to the designated school administrator who handles these issues.
- Ultimately, let the student know you’ll be there for them, no matter what. Offer resources available to them, such as school counseling,talking with their family or friends for support, safety planning and online resources like Break the Cycle, the National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline and loveisrespect.If you feel your student may be in immediate danger, find out what your school’s policies are for reporting dating violence, whether it’s occurring on campus or not. Student safety is the most important factor and you are a vital part of ensuring that safety.