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Teens and Dating Violence
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Relationship violence can start as early as high school, and many parents may not be aware of just how widespread relationship violence is among teens.

One out of every three teenagers is involved in an abusive relationship, and one in ten high school students has been hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriend or girlfriend within the last year, according to a 2008 survey study from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

But, the abuse dynamic isn't the same for teenagers as it may be for adults in relationships. Whereas adult victims of domestic violence - which include physical, emotional, mental and sexual abuse - experience a variety of abusive acts, teenage victims - mainly females - experience mostly emotional and mental abuse.

Since the abuse inflicted doesn't leave physical scars, most of the time, the young victim doesn't even realize he/she is being abused, says Derek Marchmen, a Rockdale County courts family violence consultant.

"High school kids and college kids are just learning how to think abstractly. Emotions are too complicated to figure out," he said.

Something such as demanding a response to a text message or phone call in a certain period of time or restricting your partner from having communication with people of the opposite gender are all forms of emotional abuse that many teens in high school and college relationships go through.

"A lot of it is control issues," said Marchmen, who gives talks and leads workshops around the country on domestic violence.

Sex can also be used as a form of control in a teenage relationship.

"Guys will say, ‘If you love me, you'll do it,'" said Marchmen. "That's why some guys are so quick to tell girls they love them."

Some teens do acknowledge an abusive relationship when they see one. Project ReNeWal Director Vickie Stevenson said she was astonished at how many students at a high school in Rockdale County had an experience with an abusive relationship.

Stevenson conducted a hand-raising poll during one of her speeches to the student body.

"At least 40 percent of the kids said they were victims or knew someone who was a victim," she said.

Even though most abusive teenage relationships begin with emotional abuse, Stevenson warns that it could lead to physical violence later.

"If someone is restricting the things you do, (and you go against one of those restrictions), that can lead to violence," Stevenson said.

When teenagers are going through abusive situations it can be difficult to tell someone about it, if they recognize it's happening. That's why Springfield Baptist Church Youth Pastor Dondre Mapp says preaching awareness and creating a positive social environment for teens are the most effective ways to help them.

"We try to have our leaders in a position where kids feel free to share if they are going down that road or see someone going down that road," said Mapp, who oversees at least 300 kids, aged 12 to 18, for youth ministry during two Sundays of the month.

In his two years as the youth pastor, Mapp says only three kids have told him personally about an abusive situation they were involved in, but he isn't "naïve" to the fact that there could be more teens who need help.

When a student does seek help, the first step is to tell the parents because more than likely the child hasn't told their mother or father yet. Sometimes, having one of the church's youth leaders there helps to create a bridge of dialogue for the teen to tell the parents, says Mapp.

"(The teenager) may be ashamed," he said on why teens may not tell their parents right away about an abusive relationship. "They may feel like their letting their parents down for getting themselves in that situation."

There may be shame, but many teens across the state are dealing with this problem. According to Rockdale State Court Judge Nancy Bills, who's also the head of the task force against family violence in Rockdale, Georgia is ranked number one in the country for teen dating violence.

Bills says that teens in relationships are usually displaying learned behavior so it's important to teach them proper dating behavior.

"We have been working with schools and talking to kids because at that young age, when they're just learning how to date, just learning about relationships, they're modeling their relationships on what they see and what they learn," said Bills when she spoke to the South Rockdale Civic Association. "If you grew up in an abusive home, whether you're the man or the women, you have either learned to be the abuser or learned that the abuse is normal."