State Dating Violence Policy

At the state level, laws can better protect teens by providing minors with more rights and by increasing state funding for domestic violence programs that benefit youth. Find out how well your state is doing by visiting Break the Cycle's State-by-State Teen Dating Violence Report Cards.

State Policy Project

Break the Cycle's State Policy Project provides advice, support and resources to state-level advocates and policymakers as you work to improve your state’s response to dating violence.

Our current state policy priorities include:

  • Ensure available, confidential services for youth, including mental healthcare, reproductive healthcare, substance abuse treatment and medical treatment. Check back for more information on our efforts to ensure diverse, quality services for youth.
  • Improve school response to dating violence, including prevention education and school policy. Learn about our School Policy initiatives.
  • Increase minor's access to restraining orders.

About Restraining Orders

Break the Cycle advocates for increased access to the legal system for teens who experience dating violence so they can better protect themselves. In doing so, we support three broad improvements to state law:

Item 1: Dating Relationships Count

Although the laws are changing, eight states1 still define legal relationships as only between two people who live together, have a child together or are married.

This definition excludes large numbers of people from accessing legal protections like restraining orders. Disproportionately affecting teens, these laws leave victims in a dating relationship with little legal protection from their abusers. They can only seek civil harassment orders, which are not designed to meet their needs and often require difficult legal negotiations to be effective.

It is imperative that state laws recognize dating relationships so that more people and specifically the majority of youth victims of relationship abuse have access to protection orders.

Item 2: Minors Need Legal Protection

In many states, the law does not say how old you have to be to get a protection order. Because the law isn't specific, each court decides on an individual basis whether a teen can apply for (let alone get) a restraining order. With each judge making their own decision about what the law means, teens are left with unpredictable, if any, access to the courts.

Most states are also silent on whether a person can obtain a protection order against an abusive minor. This lack of clarity adds yet another barrier for teens seeking access to the court system. Minors must be able to apply for and receive protection orders.

In addition to addressing ambiguous state laws, Break the Cycle works to improve laws that make it harder for young people to access the legal remedies adults have.

Item 3: Remove Obstacles for Teens

Parental consent and notification requirements in state domestic violence laws make it significantly harder for many young people to protect themselves.

For various reasons, youth may not want their parents to know that they are having problems in their relationship, or even that they are in a relationship at all. In some cases, teens may not have parents who are available or willing to help them get a protection order.

Any parental notification requirement deters minors from trying to get a protection order. To help ensure their safety, it is vital that youth be able to access protection orders without the permission or knowledge of their parent or guardian.

Changing State Law

Annually, we evaluate each state about how well they meet these three criteria. Learn about how your state measures up by visiting our State-by-State Teen Dating Violence Report.

Read Break the Cycle's testimony before the DC City Council on expanding access to protection orders for teens. The bill became law in 2009.

Additional Support

States have only begun to address the issue of teen dating violence in their legislation and there is much work to do. Break the Cycle is committed to supporting states in their efforts to prevent dating violence and improve the lives of young people. For more information about Break the Cycle’s State Policy Project, email [email protected].