The Michigan Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention and Treatment Board defines dating violence as “a pattern of assaultive and controlling behaviors that one person uses against another in order to gain or maintain power and control in the relationship.” The statistics surrounding dating violence are staggering.
Every year, almost 1.5 million American high schoolers experience dating abuse, and 43% of dating college women experience violence and abusive dating behaviors, according to Loveisrespect. DoSomething reports that 33% of young people will be in an abusive or unhealthy relationship, and half of them will attempt suicide because of it.
It’s an epidemic that needs to be stopped, so today we’re going to discuss numerous red flags to watch for and provide a list of services that can show us all how to put an end to dating violence.
Dating Violence Warning Signs (#1-11)
First, let’s go over some of the most common ways an abusive partner might behave in a relationship, from controlling what you do to isolating you from other people.
1. They’re Excessively Bossy
There’s nothing wrong with being bossy, but when someone is always telling you what to watch, what to eat, what to listen to, how to act, when to go to sleep, when to wake up, and how to do your job, among other things, then it’s a serious problem. This is often known as coercive control.
An abuser could start off by making suggestions and getting annoyed if you don’t follow through. Then the suggestions become more frequent, and their tone becomes firmer. The next thing you know the suggestions become demands, and you feel like you don’t have a choice anymore.
2. They Look at Your Texts & Emails Without Your Permission
Nearly 20% of men and 25% of women in committed relationships have secretly checked their partner’s phone, according to a study by Avast. The research, which was conducted by Loveisrespect, shows that 36% of dating college students have given a dating partner access to their computer, email, or social media accounts, and they’re more likely to experience digital dating abuse.
Someone going through your phone or email without you knowing is a huge invasion of privacy, but abusers can find a way to make you feel bad about it. They could get mad at what they find (even something as simple as a photo of you and a friend), and they could turn the situation around on you — saying you’re the one doing something wrong and trying to keep stuff from them.
3. They Constantly Demean You
Dating abuse can be verbal as well, and abusers will usually put their partners down — calling them names and making their partners feel as if only they can be relied on them and that no one else will put up with them. It’s pretty common for an abuser to later say that they’re only joking when they say those things.
According to a Psychology Today article, abusers will use “you” statements, which can be judgmental. For example, “You are such a victim,” “You think you are so precious, don’t you?” “You are never satisfied,” “You always find something to be upset about,” and “No one likes you because you are so negative.”
4. They’re Extremely Jealous and Insecure
DomesticShelters.org says that there’s a normal amount of jealousy that we all can feel. But then there’s jealousy that “becomes a problem when the person feeling jealous becomes possessive or controlling or imposes double standards on his or her partner,” said Dani Bostick, a counselor and member of the American Counseling Association.
Perhaps your partner doesn’t like when you go out with friends or family without them, text co-workers, look in the direction of someone of the opposite gender, what you post on social, and so on. Sometimes people can think that jealousy is attractive and it means the person really cares about you, but that’s not necessarily the case. There’s a fine line.
5. They Try to Keep You Away From Friends and Family
According to HealthyPlace.com, a consumer mental health site, “isolation is the first step to convincing a victim that their controller is the most important person in the world.” It could start off with one weekend — the abuser convinces their partner not to go to an event with family members and friends. Then it could turn into every weekend. Then you’re no longer seeing your loved ones the way you used to, if at all.
Abusers have ways of making the victim think that it’s their choice to stay away from the important people in their life (e.g., saying things about them that aren’t true). He or she is trying to cover up their inappropriate behavior, and they’re probably aware that your friends and family have noticed it.
6. They Make False Accusations Against You
We mentioned earlier that sometimes abusers will shift the blame onto their victims if they find something on their phones or in their emails or social profiles that they don’t like — perhaps suggesting the victim is cheating on them or keeping secrets. Abusers often make themselves out to be the victim. This kind of role reversal can happen throughout the relationship and can come in various forms.
Evolution Counseling words it perfectly: “‘Normal’ people called out for destructive words or actions usually feel compelled to defend what they’ve said or done if they believe there’s a misunderstanding or to try to make amends if they believe there’s not. But abusers don’t go on the defensive; they go on the offensive. They turn the tables by quickly moving the conversation away from what they’ve said or done to focus instead on the abusive, hurtful nature of their victims’ complaint.”
7. They Have an Uncontrollable Temper
According to WomansDivorce.com, one of the most common signs that someone is abusive is that he or she often has major mood swings and lacks impulse control. One minute, they could be yelling at you for not folding the laundry right, and then they’re apologizing by showering you with gifts and taking you out on the town for a romantic night.
Sometimes controlling behavior is not as obvious. Maybe you forgot to call them one night to let them know you got home safely, and then they ignored you for the next five days. These are drastic overreactions. Another sign is if they don’t just have these outbursts with you — but with other people as well.
8. They Physically Cause You Pain
Of course, physical abuse is among the biggest red flags in a toxic relationship. Maybe they grab your wrists during an argument, jerk your arm and pull you suddenly in another direction when you’re walking, or grip your chin when they’re talking to you and trying to make a point. These actions may seem insignificant at first, but they usually escalate.
You’ll also want to pay attention to how they treat animals and children. A majority of abusers lack empathy. If they don’t seem to care about the feelings and well-being of a defenseless animal or child, then they may not care about your feelings and well-being.
9. They Pressure You to Do Things You Don’t Want to Do
Oftentimes, abusers will convince victims to participate in activities they’re not comfortable with. Examples include telling you to eat a certain food they know you don’t like, try a new position in bed you don’t want to try, or quit your job when you actually love what you do. They mask this behavior as being concerned for your health and safety, but it’s a way of controlling your every move.
Also, as we mentioned earlier, an abuser typically will pressure you to cut friends and family out of their life. However, they’ll ask you for access to your bank account as well. They’re slowly working their way into other areas of your life so they can have all the control. This will make it harder for you to leave.
10. They’re Very Possessive
Possessive partners could frequently use phrases like “you’re mine,” get angry when you talk or socialize with other people (especially if they’re of the opposite gender), or accuse you of cheating or lying. They could always be holding your hand, having their arm around you, or standing between you and another person when you’re out together. They could say that it makes them sad when you’re away, or they could even threaten to harm themselves just so you’ll stay. They could make you tell them where you are and who you’re with at all times.
Abusers generally feel like they should always get what they want and can treat their “possessions” however they want.
11. They Tell You What to Wear & How to Look
According to the anti-violence organization RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), a warning sign of dating violence can be if the abuser tells his or her victim how they should dress.
For example, they demand that you wear long sleeves, so no one else can see your arms, and only wear certain colors they like or don’t allow you to use makeup, so you don’t draw attention from other people. They tell you how they want your body to look, so they control how and when you work out.
Resources for Preventing Dating Violence (#12-23)
Hundreds of organizations are making great strides in the fight against dating violence, and we’ve highlighted the top dozen or so below. These organizations offer tips for people to take to help eradicate dating violence
12. The Hotline
Abused individuals can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (the Hotline), which was founded more than 20 years ago, anytime and on any day: 800-799-SAFE (7233). Trained advocates are available no matter what language you speak, and they’ll listen and offer support, provide information about violence and safety planning, and direct victims to useful services. The Hotline has resources for friends and family, the abusers themselves, and those who want to help the organization reach its goals and change the world.
13. Break the Cycle
The name says it all — Break the Cycle strives to create a world where abuse doesn’t exist. The organization says that “everyone deserves a healthy relationship” and uses youth and leadership education, legal services, dozens of campaigns, policy development, training programs, among other programs, to reach that goal. Break the Cycle got started in 1996 in Los Angeles and now has staff and volunteers in Washington, DC, Austin, and other cities across the country.
We talked about RAINN in the section about dating violence warning signs, but we thought we’d elaborate because it really is an amazing organization.
“Truly elevating, truly healing. No words to express my gratitude.” — Brad, a survivor who worked with RAINN
Launched in 1994, RAINN operates the 24/7 National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-HOPE) and the DoD Safe Helpline for the Department of Defense. And the nonprofit has helped more than 2.5 million people since its founding (15,964 a month).
15. The DATE SAFE Project
“Building a culture of respect,” the DATE SAFE Project is there to answer questions and clear up any confusion about sexual, dating, and relationship intimacy and abuse. The team, led by Founder Mike Domitrz, is positive, perceptive, and empowering — whether it’s through live events, trainings, or programs. You can join the DATE SAFE community by taking the Live the Moment pledge.
Loveisrespect is probably one of the best known anti-violence organizations, and its main focus is helping teens. It was founded in 2007 as a Hotline project, and it was the first 24/7 resource for teens experiencing dating violence in the US. Resources included downloadable materials, educator toolkits, dating abuse statistics, articles, legal help, and campaigns like Love is Digital.
17. Futures Without Violence
Futures Without Violence (FUTURES) has been fighting to end violence against women, children, and families for over three decades, and the organization has offices in San Francisco, Washington, DC, and Boston — as well as a Center for Leadership and Action in the Presidio area of San Francisco.
FUTURES targets women, men, children, teens, seniors, government officials, health professionals, educators, among others, and hosts events and webinars, makes public service announcements, and writes informational blog posts.
18. Office on Violence Against Women
More than 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. — so there are a lot of organizations that focus on women who face abuse. The Office on Violence Against Women (aka OVW) provides funding and technical assistance to communities in the US that are creating programs, policies, and initiatives meant to prevent dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Since 1995, OVW has awarded more than $6 billion.
19. Dating Abuse Stops Here
Dating Abuse Stops Here, also called Dash, was created by Lynne and Andy Russell, whose daughter, Siobhan, was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2009 when she was 19. The organization’s goal is to raise awareness about teen dating violence, show teens and parents what healthy relationship behavior looks like, and offer resources — which includes fact sheets, safety plans, and personal stories — to teens in distress.
20. Women’s Law
“Because knowledge is power,” Women’s Law provides legal info for victims of abuse in layman’s terms — no complicated jargon or lawyer talk. Elizabeth Martin, along with numerous lawyers, teachers, and other advocates, founded the site in 2000, and it now sees over 1.2 million annual visitors. Its main resource, the Email Hotline, also offers referrals and other resources to over 3,000 people.
21. Victims of Crime
The National Center for Victims of Crime “advocates for stronger rights, protection, and services for crime victims; provides education, training, and evaluation; and serves as a trusted source of current information on victims’ issues.”
The organization does so by working with local, state, and federal officials. Originally called the Sunny Von Bulow National Victim Advocacy Center, the National Center for Victims of Crime was created by Ala Isham and Alexander Auersperg — whose mother was a victim of crime and whose experience deeply affected their lives as well.
22. Violence Prevention Works
Violence Prevention Works tackles dating violence as well as bullying and youth suicide, and its mission is to make all of our schools, homes, and communities safer. On the site, you can find free webinars, expert advice, professional development courses, and information about each state’s efforts to prevent bullying, hazing, harassment, and abuse. The organization can also keep you posted on the latest headlines concerning dating violence and bullying on its News page.
23. Choose Respect
Choose Respect defines respect as “to treat with care and consideration,” and the organization was founded by Gary Butcher. The site covers domestic violence topics as well as suicide, antisocial behavior, theft, treatment of police, and land degradation, to name a few. You can register as a Choose Respect Champion to say that you’ll help make a positive difference in your community.
If We’re Informed, We Can Stop Dating Violence
Every minute, almost 20 Americans are physically abused by an intimate partner, a statistic that adds up to 10 million people a year. Just think of how many men and women were harmed in the time that it took you to read this article. It’s a serious problem, and while learning about the warning signs and resources is a good start, there’s more to be done. Society has a long way to go to ensure that dating violence is ended for good, and it’ll get there if we all pitch in.