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.

What Can You Do to Support Youth Survivors of Dating Abuse?

Adult allies and organizations serving youth communities often ask about how they can better serve the needs of young people. Break the Cycle’s Director of Programs Kelley Hampton guest blogs and talks about what you can as an ally or organization to help young people experiencing dating abuse. 

“I knew something was wrong. I knew I needed help, but I didn’t know where to go.”  — Anonymous

One in three young people experience some form of abuse in a relationship, but only 33% of teens will tell anyone about the abuse in their relationship. A young person may be afraid of retaliation by an abusive partner, may worry that no one will believe them, or may not even be sure that the behaviors they are experiencing are abusive. A young person may want to tell someone and seek help but not know where or how to access these services. Whatever the reason, adult allies and organizations must strive to meet the unique needs of youth survivors of abuse and increase the number of young people to will ask for help. 

The key to reaching youth is to create youth-informed and youth-centered services and programs; in other words, to keep young people and their needs at the heart of all services and programs. Through our work with young people and the organizations who serve them, we have identified these helpful tips for individuals and organizations that want to better serve the youth in their communities.

As an individual

Reconnect with your teenage self: What were you like when you were 15 or 16? What did you wear? Who was your first crush? What did you think of adults in your life at that time? By recalling how you were when you were younger, you can frame your outreach to young people in a more relevant and impactful way. 

Listen: This sounds simple, but it can be very hard to do. If a young person in your life or in your work opens up to you, they want you to hear them. Give them the space to share their experiences with you. 

Be authentic: Communicate honestly and openly. Young people can tell when you are trying too hard or acting like something you are not. Don’t try to use their lingo; just try to understand where they are coming from.  It is ok to ask them to explain something that they say if you don’t understand. 

Grow your knowledge: Whether or not you have experience working with young people who have had abuse in their relationships, take time to educate yourself on the warning signs of abuse, risk and protective factors, and resources in the community that are geared towards minors or young people.

Be honest and open about the level of confidentiality you can provide: Young people will share their experiences with you when they trust you. Establishing trust can take awhile to create, but the number one way to destroy trust is to let a young person believe that they are sharing something with you in confidence when you might need to report what they share with you to someone else. Be truthful about the level of confidentiality you can provide.

As an organization

Grow your programs based on youth input: Young people are resilient and strong. Consider ways to gather input from young people in your community. Through their voices, providers can build support services that respond to their needs. Evaluate your programs and make changes as necessary. Let their needs guide you!

Educate and inform your community: Once you know the facts about dating abuse, spread the information to others around you – coworkers, family, friends, and community partners.

Build strong referral networks: Young people, like adults, may come to your program for one type of service, but need support in other areas. This could include healthcare services, transportation, or financial support. Build strong relationships with other programs in your community so that if you need to refer a young person, you know you have somewhere to send them for quality support. 

Consider peer-led advocacy models: Not only are young people often more comfortable talking to peers, there is research and evidence that peer to peer programs can have positive impacts on youth attitudes, norms, knowledge and behaviors.