by “Allie” of Ask Allie!
College may be the first age that comes to mind when we think of teen dating violence, but abuse may exist in any romantic relationship at any time, even preteens who are just entering their first relationship. Dating violence may be anything from emotional abuse, sexual coercion or assault, to physical violence that may be severe enough to cause injury, or worse. Teenagers are in a precarious position of not being able to protect themselves without adult intervention and fear of judgment by peers with whom they attend school five days a week. Adding the typical shaming teens may receive for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, an abusive relationship can become a recipe for emotional disaster, especially if the teen is not “out of the closet” and fears that getting adult assistance will mean “outting” oneself.
It is important that teens be given the space and freedom to speak about their dating relationships honestly. If a teen feels he or she has to hide the fact that a partner is same-sex, the teen will not be able to genuinely open up about abuse. If the teen is out to a caregiver, but the caregiver is not accepting, the teen may protect the abusive partner because of a need to prove that being gay is okay. The discomfort that adults may feel when speaking to the teens in their life will eventually wane, but the effects of domestic violence may last a lifetime if untreated, or may prove deadly.
Is a teen you know in an abusive relationship? Here are some warning signs:
- He/she receives excessive phone calls or text messages from partner.
- The teen seems fearful about not responding to calls or messages right away.
- Isolation from friends and activities that they once loved.
- Their partner uses demeaning language or put downs, even in a joking context.
- Bruises on the arms, face or neck begin appearing — the teen begins wearing long-sleeved clothing when it’s not appropriate for the weather.
- Uncharacteristic crying or depression.
- Jumpiness around the house — fearful of loud noises or sudden movements where the fear hadn’t been present before.
Ultimately adults are responsible for protecting the teens in their lives. If a teen is in an abusive relationship, it is up to adults to help support the youth, especially if the teen is being physically assaulted. Contacting local law enforcement is crucial if someone’s been physically hurt, as is obtaining a protective order. You don’t have to go through this all by yourself. You can call Gay & Lesbian Switchboard Houston at 713.529.3211 to speak to a volunteer, or contact MCC’s at 713.529.0037.
Ask Allie answers relationship questions, primarily for and about gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth at askallie.org.