Teen Dating Violence

For adolescents, health care professionals can be essential in the recognition and treatment of abuse. Therefore, it’s important for those who work with teenagers and young adults to understand the prevalence of dating violence. Discovering teen dating violence in its early stages can prevent re-victimization and equip teenagers with the knowledge of what is (and is not) a healthy relationship.

Dating violence is defined as psychological, sexual, or physical abuse within a dating relationship in an effort for one partner to exert control over the other. It can refer to a single incident of violence, such as date rape or another form of sexual assault, or it may be repeated abusive behavior. Patterns can include psychological abuse, physical injury or the threat of injury, social isolation from friends and family, stalking, control over what someone wears, sexual assault, and/or threats. 

Role of the Health Care Provider

Victims of any type of abuse are often hesitant to directly report when an incidence of violence has occurred. Often, teens will not even disclose dating violence to family members due to embarrassment, fear of disbelief, or repercussions from parents who did not approve of their relationship. For teens who do not know where else to turn, health care providers can offer help to those who would not seek it otherwise. 

It is therefore important for health care providers to ask the right questions and to create an environment in which their patients feel safe. Consistent screening for dating violence at every visit to a health care provider increases the accurate diagnosis of violence and expands the time frame in which prevention, education, and treatment can begin. 

Types of Dating Violence

Dating violence can include a wide range of types and behaviors, some more obvious than others. 

Physical Violence

Generally, physical violence involves the use of force by the abuser. Among other physically abusive behaviors, this term includes:

  • Pushing or shoving
  • Biting
  • Choking
  • Beating
  • Throwing something (at the victim)
  • Scalding

In some cases, physical abuse may also involve the use of a weapon toward the victim.

Sexual Violence

The term “sexual violence” encompasses all forms of sexual harassment, sexual coercion, and sexual assault. Commonly, these violent behaviors include:

  • Making lewd comments or gestures
  • Pressuring someone to engage in sexual acts by taunting, belittling, making fun of, or harassing them
  • Forcing someone to engage in a sexual act
  • Not stopping sexual contact when asked to

Psychological Violence

Psychological violence involves the use of words or actions to belittle, intimidate, isolate, or control someone. This can include:

  • Constant criticism
  • Ridiculing
  • Name calling
  • Making otherwise insulting comments
  • Threatening to hurt the victim, their loved ones, or their property
  • Excessive jealousness and possessiveness

Uncovering Dating Violence

There are different ways to assess for dating violence. The health care provider can ask direct questions (eg, “Has your partner ever hit you, hurt you, or threatened you in any way?” “Are you scared of your partner?”), indirect questions (eg, “Do you feel safe at home?” “What happens when you and your partner disagree?”), or framing questions (eg, “I ask all my patients about violence in their relationships. Does your partner ever hit you, hurt you, or threaten you?”). 

It is also important for health care providers to discuss the limits of confidentiality with their patient, as well as the patient’s parents, before asking any questions. If the patient is a child or adolescent, the health care provider may need to report disclosed information to the parent or law enforcement. Conversely, if the patient is beyond the age of reporting, the health care provider is not able to discuss findings with the victim’s parents regardless of what they disclosed. 


For some health care providers, there may be barriers to identifying dating violence in patients. Some are uncomfortable with asking questions or worry they will make the patient uncomfortable. Additionally, providers may not ask screening questions because they fear that once the problem is discovered, they will not have the opportunity to follow through and help the patient due to a lack of training or resources. 

Unfortunately, mandatory reporting laws also create a barrier because teenagers may want to keep the abuse confidential. Victims may choose to not disclose violent behavior because they feel embarrassed or are worried their parents will find out, particularly if the abuse occurred when the teen was acting against their parents’ wishes (eg, at a party, alone with their partner, etc.). Patients also may feel like no one will believe them, or they could fear retaliation from their abuser. 

Efforts need to be made to properly prepare health care providers to deal with this common health risk. The more knowledge providers have about dating violence, the more likely they are to ask the right questions, make appropriate interventions for counseling, and reduce the likelihood of further victimization. 

This blog was written by STM Learning’s editorial staff for educational purposes only. It is not intended to give specific medical or legal advice. For expert information on the discussed subjects, please refer to STM Learning’s publications


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