Teen Dating Violence: Issues & Needs

Issues & Needs — By on February 1, 2011 6:09 pm

For too long, anti-violence advocates have developed our approaches to ending teen dating violence based on an understanding of adult women’s experiences and needs. The solutions that we offer violence survivors – for example, domestic violence hotlines, or the opportunity to go to court to obtain protective orders – are not solutions that youth can or will access.  The central need, then, is to develop solutions that work for youth.  We have identified several issues that need to be addressed if we are to design programs that offer real support to young women.


While the women’s movement of the 1970s recognized the intersection of the different forms of violence that women experience — for example, rape and domestic violence — state funding has long pushed organizations to silo their work and address only one particular form of violence.  This type of approach will not work for young women, who experience multiple and intersecting forms of violence. The Taskforce has written about recent cases of young women who reported they had been sexually assaulted, received no systems support, were bullied at school for having made the report, and eventually committed suicide.  This is an example of these multiple forms of violence intersecting in young women’s lives, and we want to draw attention to the fact that the violence is both individual and systemic in nature.

Our solutions, then, need to address violence at all of these different levels.  A great example of an effort that recognizes this need is the work of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Policy Law around the Ensuring Success in Schools Initiative (see more here).  This legislative effort addresses teen pregnancy, teen dating violence and school safety as interrelated issues.


When youth leaders from the Rogers Park Young Women’s Action Team surveyed their peers in 2004 to ask who they turn to in cases of dating violence, they found that they were

“least likely to call a dating/domestic violence hotline for advice; only 12% probably or definitely would do that.”

Less than one quarter of youth would consider turning to the court system for help.  You can read YWAT’s full report, The Real Deal, here.  A recent assessment by the Mayors’ Office on Domestic Violence confirms what the young women from YWAT found, suggesting that teens are wary of seeking orders of protection, a central component of the system’s response for adult survivors.

This points to a need to develop programs that engage young people as leaders, and as peer educators and supporters, in partnership with adult allies.  Young people are, not surprisingly, more comfortable talking with other youth about problems they are facing. We need to engage youth, working in partnership with experienced adult allies, to provide a safe and supportive environment. We must create opportunities for youth to help shape the programs we create.


A cookie cutter approach won’t work for all girls. Approaches need to be culturally sensitive, and approaches are needed for the unique needs of LGBTQ youth, immigrant youth, incarcerated youth, youth with disabilities, and other marginalized groups of young people.  This will require us to take the time to listen to what young people in our communities tell us they need.